Nerve Pain After Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal and Pelvic Surgery Sometimes Causes Chronic Pelvic Nerve Pain

A women with abdominal pain.
A women with abdominal pain.. IAN HOOTON/Getty Images

Unfortunately, abdominal surgery can be the culprit of chronic pelvic nerve pain.

For people whose pelvic nerves have been cut, stretched or otherwise damaged during abdominal surgery, such as an appendectomy, gynecological surgery or some types of hernia repair, the condition can be very disabling.

Fortunately, this type of nerve injury is relatively rare, and can often be treated.

Nerve Pain After Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal surgery has been known, in some cases, to cause damage to the ilio-inguinal nerve, the ilio-hypogastric nerve and the genitofemoral nerve, all of which can lead to pelvic nerve pain, or pelvic neuropathic pain.

Here are a few reasons why this might happen:

  • Pelvic nerves are close to incisional sites. During routine abdominal and pelvic surgeries, the ilio-hypogastric and ilio-inguinal nerves are often directly in the line of fire. Due to anatomical differences between people, even the most skilled surgeons have the potential to sever these nerves.
  • Anatomically, pelvic nerves are different in each person. Pelvic nerve structure can vary greatly from person to person. In some people, the nerves sit under the abdominal muscles. In other people, they may pass right through them. Some people have more pelvic nerve branches than others. Avoiding pelvic nerve damage during surgery is not easy when there are so many potential variations.
  • Stretching pelvic nerves can also cause damage. You don’t have to have your pelvic nerves cut or nicked in order to suffer from chronic pelvic nerve pain. Sometimes, the nerves are stretched enough during surgery that damage is done.
  • Pelvic nerves may become compressed after surgery. Nerve entrapment - in sutures, staples or mesh - can also lead to pelvic nerve pain, and can occur after some types of abdominal and pelvic surgery.

If You're In Pain

Talk to your surgeon if you think your post-operative (post-surgery) pain may be unusual.

Most of the time, stretched nerves will heal on their own with the proper care. And many times, nerves that are entrapped will resolve on their own when the suture is absorbed by the body.

If you're still experiencing pain more than three months after your surgery, it's considered chronic pain.

There are possible treatments for chronic pelvic nerve pain that doesn't resolve on its own.

Nerve blocks or surgery to resolve the nerve injury may help.

Your doctor may also recommend certain medications for the pain. The most commonly prescribed drugs for chronic pelvic nerve pain are tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Although these medications weren't originally developed for treating pain, they have been found to relieve pain in some conditions.

Some people try alternative approaches to dealing with their chronic pelvic nerve pain, such as physical therapy, acupuncture or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

Considering Pelvic or Abdominal Surgery

Before you panic about having abdominal surgery, you should know that long-term pelvic nerve pain caused by damage to the pelvic nerves is relatively rare.

After pelvic surgery, nerve injury occurs in about 2 percent of patients.

As more and more research becomes available, surgeons are using more advances techniques to avoid damage to pelvic nerves during abdominal and pelvic surgeries.


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