Spinal cord injuries & nerve and tendon transfers

Car accidents, falls, sporting injuries and work-related accidents have the risk of damaging the spinal cord and thus the communication between the brain and the body. Cervical spinal cord injuries that result in the loss of functioning in the upper limbs and hands can affect the basic activities of daily living, leaving a person with quadriplegia unable to function independently.

Luckily, as of recently the surgeons at the Garden Route Hand Unit are able to perform nerve, muscle and tendon transfer surgery to allow for such patients to regain functioning of the upper limbs by restoring mobility of the elbow, wrist and hand.

What is a nerve, muscle and tendon transfer?

Nerve transfer surgeries and post-traumatic reconstruction may be advised to treat spasticity, contracture and deformity after a spinal cord injury. These surgeries are proving greatly beneficial for those who may have suffered a stroke, brachial plexus injury or cerebral palsy. Tendon, muscle and nerve transfer surgery is aimed at restoring the functioning of the upper limbs by using ‘spare' muscles to compensate for the paralysed muscles or by releasing the muscle and stretching it and rerouting it to alter its function.

Nerve and tendon transfers are particularly useful in the setting of nerve and brachial plexus injuries as well as after spinal cord injuries to restore a certain level of function. In certain cases, only a nerve transfer or only a tendon transfer may be used and sometimes a combination of both. Generally, in the case of nerve transfer surgery, it should be done within a certain time period after the injury and sometimes more than one surgery will be necessary.

It is important to remember that these surgeries involve a significant recovery period. While temporary, recovery may involve a period of reduced upper limb functioning and movement, which can be very frustrating.