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Nerve Swap Surgery Restores Functions Of Paralyzed Arms

A nerve swapping technique, where a nerve coming out of the spinal cord is operated, has made it possible for Chinese doctors in Shanghai to enable patients to use their partly paralyzed arms again.

Patients who underwent the nerve swapping operation could use their previously immobile arms to use mobile phones and tie shoes. The surgeons think the surgery might have helped in rewiring the nerves, too and therefore, the operated people could use their damaged arm once again.

Nerve Swapping Technique For Spastic Limb Paralysis

A team of doctors, including Dr. Wen-Dong Xu and his colleagues from Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital, conducted the surgery on people afflicted with a damaged arm caused by brain injuries or strokes. The damage resulted in uncontrolled nervous signals to the impacted arm, which is a condition referred to as spastic limb paralysis. It causes stiffness, jerking, and uncontrolled movements of the arm.

“The spastic arm posture impairs activities of daily living, such as hygiene and dressing, and may cause pain,” the research team said. “It is estimated that 30 percent to 60 percent of stroke survivors are unable to use their paralyzed hand."

The researchers reportedly published their study in the The New England Journal of Medicine on Dec. 20.

To conduct the nerve swapping operating technique, the surgeons operated 18 patients. The surgery included a process where they cut a nerve, which goes from the affected arm into the spine at the neck, specifically at the C7 vertebra. Next, a nerve from C7 was swapped from the body’s other side to hook up another pathway to the brain.

Post surgery, the uncontrolled spasticity ceased immediately for some of the operated people due to cutting the impacted nerve. Within the next 10 months, patients could use the impacted arm to make movements like wringing out a towel, operating mobile phones, and dressing up with the help of the operated arm.

Critics Want To Know More About The Technique

Critics, however, said that it is unclear how such a feat was possible. Also, it will take more tests in patients to observe how helpful the new technique will be, or how many patients it could benefit.

Dr. Robert Spinner, chairman of Mayo Clinic’s neurosurgery section at Minnesota, said that there is no doubt about the positive outcome. In fact, it is an exciting news as spastic limb paralysis is a huge problem in America and the world in general. What is more important, however, is to know what exactly caused the improvement.

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