Numbness and Tingling After Surgery

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Patient with numbness in hand.
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Numbness can happen after surgery for a variety of reasons, sometimes numbness is intentional, and it can also be an unexpected complication of surgery. Numb hands and feet can be very annoying, and can also cause problems with normal activities, so it should not be ignored.

If you are experiencing unexpected numbness, and your surgeon didn’t mention that you could expect to feel numb after surgery, don’t hesitate to let your healthcare provider know that it is happening. There may be a logical explanation, or it could be a sign of a serious complication after surgery.


Numbness can be present for multiple reasons. Anesthesia causes numbness intentionally and the numbness can last for hours or days. But there are other causes as well.


The reason that anesthesia is used is so you don’t experience the pain of surgery. There are many types of anesthesia, but all have one purpose: to prevent the brain from feeling the surgical procedure. Most surgeries would be too painful to even consider without the benefit of anesthesia. 

After surgery, anesthesia can result in temporary numbness, especially if a nerve block was performed. In fact, for some procedures this numbness lasting for hours or a day after surgery is a blessing: you don’t feel pain where you are numb.


Being still on the surgical table for an extended period of time can cause numbness, the longer the procedure the higher the risk for this type of problem. If you have ever had your leg “fall asleep” after sitting too long, you are familiar with this issue.

The difference is that if your leg falls asleep during surgery, you aren’t awake to reposition yourself. To help prevent this, most operating rooms have padded tables where the surgery is performed.

Nerve Injury

An injury that cuts a nerve can also lead to numbness in the area where that nerve works. For example, a severe cut on the lower leg could potentially cut through nerves, and the area below the cut nerve could have areas of numbness.

It is possible for a nerve to be cut during surgery, and this may be unavoidable during the procedure. Surgeons who work on the face are particularly aware of the potential for nerve damage, as even a slight amount of nerve damage could result in an inability to smile, feel areas of the face, and can even cause issues with speech.

Numbness might develop soon after surgery due to swelling impinging on nerves. This is a concern especially if you are placed in a hard cast or have a restrictive bandage.

Surgical Nerve Damage

If permanent nerve damage is a potential complication of your procedure, your surgeon should discuss this with you before surgery. This will be one of the things you will need to consider when deciding whether you are willing to have surgery and if the risks of the procedure outweigh the rewards.

Incision Numbness

The area immediately around an incision is often numb after surgery and may continue to be numb for several months after surgery. This is caused by the nerves that run through the surgical site being damaged, and the sensation often returns in the months following surgery.

Numbness Worse After Surgery

If you had numbness before your surgery, it may be worse after surgery, especially if that was the reason for your surgery. Then, if surgery was successful, you may begin to feel more sensation as inflammation and swelling from your procedure improve.

For example, if you had a pinched nerve in your back and had numbness in your foot, you may experience an increase in numbness in that area, but it improves as your surgical recovery goes on. 

When to Seek Emergency Care

Numbness is a serious condition that must be treated as an emergency if you:

  • Lose control of your urine
  • Lose control of your bowels
  • Experience sudden changes in your ability to speak
  • Experience an inability to walk
  • Have facial drooping, especially on one side of the face
  • Experience one-sided weakness in the entire body
  • Experience significant and severe numbness below your surgical site, if you had back or spine surgery

Seek emergency care if you have any of these symptoms.

Numbness Can Improve

Numbness typically improves dramatically as the anesthesia wears off. Most patients experience a full recovery from numbness in a day or two following surgery.

Nerve damage takes longer to resolve—six months to one year after surgery is typically when recovery is considered complete and nerve damage has improved as much as is expected. There are always exceptions, and some patients may have additional procedures to further improve sensation.

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Additional Reading
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