Tendon transfer is a hand surgery procedure that is performed to restore loss of function of the hand or upper extremities. This type of surgery involves shifting a functioning tendon from its original attachment to another site to restore lost action.
A tendon is a nerve-like stretchy band that attaches the muscle to the bone. If the nerve that supplies the muscle is injured or damaged beyond repair, the muscle loses its action. Tendon transfer surgery can restore lost action to the damaged muscle.
Candidate for Tendon Transfer Surgery
An individual may require tendon transfer surgery to restore lost function of the tendons or muscles due to:
- Muscle injury
- Nerve injury (cut, torn, or stretched nerve)
- Birth defects in babies who are born without certain muscle function
- Neuromuscular disorder (stroke, cerebral palsy, spinal muscle atrophy, or traumatic brain injuries).
- Rheumatoid arthritis which is an inflammatory disease that affects the muscles, joints, and bones).
Risks of Tendon Transfer Surgery
The risks of tendon transfer surgery are rare but include:
- Repair failure
- Hand deformity
- Tendon adhesion (tendons getting stuck to the tissue thus losing their range of movement)
- Injury to the nearby blood vessels, tendons, or nerves
- Hand stiffness
- Hand weakness
Tendon Transfer Procedure
The hand has a number of muscles attached to the bone by tendons. Each muscle has a different function and it also has an origin (starting point) and it reduces its thickness down from its muscle belly into a specific tendon that attaches onto bone in a specific place. When the muscle contracts (fires) it causes a certain action (motion). When a muscle is injured or damaged, its movement is hampered.
A tendon transfer surgery can restore lost function by replacing the damaged muscles and tendons with healthy working ones.
The surgery may be performed under either general anesthesia (you are asleep) or mild sedation depending on the severity of the damage and the extent of the repair needed.
During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision and harvests the tendon of an extra muscle from a different part of the body. The harvested tendon is then stitched to the tendon of the muscle that lost its function. This restores function to the injured muscle. Sometimes more than one tendon transfer may be required.
Recovery After Tendon Transfer Surgery
The transferred tendon is protected by a splint or cast as it heals in its new position. The recovery period is about one to two months during which the patient has to undergo physical therapy to restore optimal function.
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