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Nerve grafts are used when a patient has a nerve injury resulting in complete loss of muscle function or sensation.

A nerve graft is a surgical technique in which a segment of unrelated nerve is used to replace or bridge an injured portion of nerve. The donor nerve serves as a “track” along which axons (appendages of neurons, which transmit impulses from the spinal cord to the muscle) can grow down to the target area.

Grafts are selected from nerves that are considered expendable, or much less important than the function being restored. Common examples of nerves that are used for grafts include the sural nerve in the leg, which provides sensation to the side of the foot, and the medial antebrachial cutaneous nerve, which provides sensation to the inner aspect of the arm. The sural nerve runs down the back of the leg from behind the knee to the outside of the foot. The procedure to take this nerve leaves a scar in the back of the patient’s leg with numbness to the outside of the foot. The medial antebrachial cutaneous nerve is taken from the inner upper arm, and this procedure results in numbness to the inside portions of the arm, elbow and forearm.

After surgery, a patient will have some numbness in the region of the donor nerve that will become smaller over several years.

The center’s surgeons select nerve grafts or other treatments, such as nerve decompressions, nerve transfers or tendon transfers based on a patient’s condition and which technique offers the best chance of recovery.