A Systematic Review of Prognostic Factors for Sensory Recovery After Digital Nerve Reconstruction

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Abstract

Background

Successful digital nerve repair is crucial in preventing painful neuroma formation and restoring sensory function after traumatic hand injury. The purpose of this study is to identify prognostic factors affecting sensory recovery following digital nerve reconstruction.

Methods

A systematic review was conducted according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines including studies reporting patients 18 years and older, greater than 10 reconstructed digital nerves, and greater than or equal to 3 months follow-up. Studies with proximal nerve injuries in the same distribution or inadequate sensory data were excluded. Included studies were evaluated by methodological index for nonrandomized studies score. Possible predictors were examined using the t test and 1-way analysis of variance with α ≤ 0.05.

Results

Twenty-five studies met the inclusion criteria, consisting of 818 surgically reconstructed digital nerves (mean age, 38 years; 78% male) with a mean ± SD defect length of 1.5 ± 0.5 cm. Mean follow-up time was 22 months. Fifty-six percent of patients presented with concomitant injuries to tendons (31%) and the digital artery (13%). Mean ± SD time to surgical repair was 36 ± 73.8 days. Reconstructive techniques included 35% end-to-end primary neurorrhaphy, 31% nerve grafts, and 11% synthetic conduits. Postoperatively, 81% of the patients demonstrated sensory recovery of S3+/S4, with 45% complaining of hyperesthesia. Nerve reconstructions performed within 15 days of injury had significantly better static 2-point discrimination than delayed procedures (P = 0.02). Static 2-point discrimination measurements were also significantly better for shorter defect lengths (<1.3 cm, P = 0.05). No significant functional differences were found across age, follow-up time, injured digit or side, nor reconstructive technique.

Conclusions

Digital nerve reconstruction has good to excellent sensory recovery in up to 81% of patients with improved results in nerve gaps less than 1.3 cm. Performing the reconstruction within 15 days of injury is also correlated with improved sensory recovery.

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