The effect of early mobilization on the healing of nerve repair was studied in a canine model. Median and ulnar nerves in the left wrist of 16 adult mongrel dogs were transected and immediately repaired. No motion of the repaired forelimb was allowed in the immobilized group (n = 10), while controlled passive motion between 30 and 90 degrees of wrist flexion was begun on the first postoperative day for 10 minutes twice daily in the mobilized group (n = 6). The pattern of revascularization and collagen formation at neurorrhaphy was examined by transillumination of India ink- injected specimen and by conventional histologic sections. Revascularization of nerve repair was found to occur by ingrowth of capillaries from proximal and distal nerve ends, which typically crossed the neurorrhaphy by 3 weeks in the immobilized group. Following early mobilization, there was a persistent 'hypovascular zone' at the nerve repair site for up to 6 weeks. In addition, more scar tissue was generated by early motion according to gross observation and quantitative collagen analysis. Early mobilization, therefore, seems to impede nerve regeneration by delaying revascularization and enhancing scar formation.
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