Accessory Nerve Damage
Most patients will only hear of the accessory nerve when it is damaged in surgery. This is a very disabling injury and is normally avoidable.
The accessory nerve runs through the neck and into the trapezius muscle below the shoulder blade. It holds the shoulder in place and enables us to raise our arms. When the nerve is damaged the shoulder does not work properly. The shoulder will droop, it becomes difficult to raise the arm and the top of the back looks odd. The shoulder blade (‘scapula’) becomes ‘winged’, which means that it has an odd-looking deformity with a dip behind the shoulder blade, as if the muscle were missing.
Sometimes people have surgery to the neck, often to remove lumps or to take biopsies of lymph nodes. When operating in the danger area – what is known as the ‘posterior triangle’ – the surgeon should check carefully where the accessory nerve is, move it to one side or operate around it to avoid damage. However every now and then someone wakes up from surgery to find that their shoulder is not working properly. The reason may be that the surgeon has accidentally damaged the nerve. This is injury which should not happen.
Sadly I have had to act for several people who have suffered injuries to their accessory nerve and for some this has been quite a disabling injury. In a couple of cases the operation itself was unnecessary because it was only to remove harmless lipomas (fatty lumps). They may be unsightly and people sometimes want them removed to look better or because they are worried about having a lump. But they risk suffering injuries from surgery. These people have had difficulties lifting and carrying and doing anything about head height. One woman had great difficulty managing her small children, lifting them into buggies, in and out of the bath and carrying out all the daily tasks childcare involves.
These are however unusual injuries and handling these types of claim involves specialist knowledge and skill.
In all cases the patients have received awards of damages. Money cannot of course undo the damage that has already been done but it can make life easier, enabling them to make up for any loss of earnings, pay for physiotherapy and any medical care they need and paying for support in doing things which otherwise be impossible for them.
Paul Sankey is a clinical and medical negligence solicitor at Enable Law in Bristol. Enable Law offers a free consultation for anyone wishing to consider a claim for damages. Call us on 08000 448488 for expert advice at no cost to you.
Paul Sankey is a partner in the Medical Negligence team at Enable Law. Paul regularly blogs here about Medical Negligence issues and legal and medical developments, and can be found on Twitter as @pauljsankey.