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Nerve Damage After Plastic Surgery

Every Plastic Surgeon's Nightmare

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Updated May 18, 2011

Any time an incision is made in the skin, there will be nerve damage. If you have a scar, you'll notice that the sensation in the area of your scar is less than the sensation of the skin on either side of the scar. This is minor nerve injury and eventually becomes barely discernible. Conversely, the nerve damage that occurs after plastic surgery can be catastrophic.

Every Plastic Surgeon's Nightmare

Nerve damage is a serious complication that anyone considering plastic surgery must be aware of. The nightmare of every plastic surgeon is the dreaded complication of permanent nerve damage. While most nerve injuries are temporary, any loss of function, no matter how fleeting, generates sleepless nights for your surgeon. Even when your surgeon provides the "standard of care," nerve injuries can occur.

Nerve Damage and Elective Surgery versus Medically Necessary Surgery

While surgical nerve injury is not always avoidable, it is especially objectionable in cosmetic plastic surgery. Nerve damage is particularly vexing to cosmetic plastic surgery because the procedures are elective as opposed to medically necessary. If a healthy person is worse off after a procedure meant to enhance a normal structure, it can be devastating for the patient.

Causes and Effects of Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can occur with any plastic surgery procedure. Injury occurs if nerves are stretched, cut, or cauterized. Nerve damage includes the spectrum from sensory nerve deficits (numbness and tingling sensation) to motor nerve deficits (weakness or paralysis of certain muscles). If a nerve is severely damaged, the effects may be permanent.

Nerve Damage Associated with Specific Plastic Surgery Procedures

Specific procedures have certain outcomes if a nerve is damaged. The table at the end of the article summarizes which nerve injuries are associated with some plastic surgery procedures.

Recovery of Function After Nerve Damage

Most nerve damage will recover spontaneously within six months to a year. In some cases, it can take two to three years for complete recovery. As nerve function returns, itching, shooting pains, and/or electrical shock sensations may be experienced. If the nerve is severed completely, then numbness and inability to move the affected muscle is permanent. Surgical intervention is required in these cases.

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Procedure Effect of Nerve Damage
Facial Enhancement

Forehead/Brow Lift

  • Loss of motion or weakness of forehead muscles
  • Loss of feeling of eyelid skin, forehead, and scalp
  • Inability to close eyes

Blepharoplasty (Eyelid Lift)

  • Blindness from optic nerve damage

Rhinoplasty (Nose Job)

  • Numbness of nasal skin

Rhytidectomy (Facelift)

  • Facial numbness
  • Inability to move face and make facial expressions, such as smiling
  • Drooping of the cheek, mouth or lips
  • Numbness of portions of the ear

Genioplasty (Chin Augmentation)

  • Numbness, pain, and tingling of lips, chin and cheeks
  • Lower lip drooping

Neck lift

  • Numbness of portions of the ear
  • Drooping of the mouth or lips
  • Neck skin numbness
Breast Surgery

Breast Augmentation

  • Increased or decreased nipple sensation
  • Numbness near incision
  • Numbness of breast skin

Mastopexy (Breast Lift)

  • Loss of nipple sensation
  • Numbness near incisions
  • Numbness of breast skin

Breast Reduction

  • Loss of nipple sensation
  • Numbness near incisions
  • Numbness of breast skin
Body Contouring

Tummy Tuck

  • Numbness and tingling of abdominal skin

Liposuction

  • Numbness at incision sites
  • Numbness and tingling in liposuctioned areas

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