Dr. David Janssen, a board-certified plastic surgeon, discusses how damage to a patient’s nerves can contribute to post-breast surgery pain and how preventing nerve damage during procedures like breast augmentation can increase patient comfort.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, postoperative breast pain is a frequent issue reported by 50 percent of women following a breast procedure. Breast pain after a procedure such as breast augmentation may interfere with sexual activity, exercise, social activity and employment.
Women can experience nerve damage in any breast procedure. The risk of damage to the nerves seems to be at least as great in lumpectomy (partial removal of the breast) procedures as in mastectomy (full removal of the breast). Regardless of procedure performed, the surgeon needs to make every effort to best manage the nerves so the patient has the best possible outcome.
In the case of mastectomies followed by reconstruction, the nerve pain is called post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS). Post-mastectomy pain is also caused by damage to intercostal nerves. These nerves exit through the muscles of the chest wall, and provide sensation to the breast, shoulder and upper arm. These nerves may be cut by the surgeon in the process of removing lymph nodes if special consideration is not given to nerve health. However, even if the nerve is carefully preserved, some patients still have pain.
There have been clinical studies performed worldwide on nerve health. The conclusion is that nerve preservation may decrease postoperative arm sensory disturbance and pain for stage I, II and III breast cancer patients.
Today, more board-certified plastic surgeons have significant training and experience in nerve-sparing and nerve-connection techniques. As trained micro surgeons, plastic surgeons are able in some cases to micro dissect traumatized nerves and improve pain by manipulating the nerve end.
If you have post mastectomy pain in a highly localized area, consider seeing a plastic surgeon with experience in managing post operative breast pain. In come cases, surgical treatment to block nerves that are causing pain may be the best option.
If you or someone you know is experiencing breast pain, please remember to consider nerve health. Be your own best advocate, do your research and ask a lot of questions.