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Beware nerve injuries in laparoscopic surgery



Inappropriate patient positioning can cause nerve injuries in gynecologic laparoscopic surgery, and it’s not just nerves below the waist that are vulnerable.

But the risk can be lowered through careful positioning that avoids pressure and over-stretching, the two main causes of nerve injuries in these surgeries, Cleveland Clinic obstetrician-gynecologist and surgeon Tommaso Falcone, MD, said at the Pelvic Anatomy and Gynecologic Surgery Symposium.

Dr. Falcone offered tips about avoiding injuries to these nerves:

Brachial plexus. To avoid injury to this nerve, arms should be tucked and pronated or kept at less than a 90-degree angle from the body. Hyperextension injuries can occur when the arm is outstretched too much, said Dr. Falcone, who recommends putting a cushion under the elbow and wrist.

How can you know if an injury has occurred? The patient will typically wake up with a dropped wrist and numbness in the arm, he said, signs suggesting a stretch injury to the brachial plexus.

Ulnar nerve: Improper tucking of the arms can injure the ulnar nerve and cause numbness and weakness in the fourth and fifth fingers. Dr. Falcone recommends keeping the arms pronated if they’re tucked and supinated if they’re on arm boards. Again, he emphasized placing a cushion under the elbow and wrist.

Femoral nerve: Hyperflexion or hyperextension can compress the femoral nerve under the inguinal ligament and cause it to become ischemic, Dr. Falcone said.

Femoral nerve injury can lead to numbness (in the anterior and medial thigh), decreased patellar reflex, weakness of the quadriceps, and loss of knee extension flexibility. Patients may need to use a wheelchair for a time and undergo physical therapy, he said.

Obdurator nerve: Excessive lateral thigh abduction – outward movement – can stretch this nerve, Dr. Falcone said. Avoid excessive abduction by keeping the thigh-to-thigh angle under 90 degrees, he recommended. (This rule also helps to prevent femoral nerve injury.)

Signs of injury can include numbness on the medial aspect of the thigh and weakness in the adductor muscles. Physical therapy can be helpful, he said.

Sciatic nerve: Beware of hyperflexion of the hips followed by sudden straightening of the knees, he said. According to him, this can occur when candy-cane stirrups are used. Signs of injury can include foot drop and numbness (calf, dorsum, sole, and lateral side of the foot).

Peroneal nerve: Prolonged pressure against the knee can injure this nerve and cause foot drop and numbness (over the lower anterior leg and dorsum of the foot).

Dr. Falcone reports honoraria (Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology and Up-To-Date) and federal research funds. This meeting was jointly provided by Global Academy for Medical Education and the University of Cincinnati. Global Academy and this news organization are owned by the same company.

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