Numbness and Tingling After Surgery

Numbness can be an unexpected and bothersome reaction to surgery. The Cleveland Clinic defines numbness as "a loss of feeling or sensation in an area of the body." It can interfere with normal activities, so don't ignore the sensation.

Sometimes, numbness may occur with tingling or a "pins and needles" feeling. Together, these form a condition known as paresthesia.

Patient with numbness in hand.

Terry Vine / Blend Images / Getty Images

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you weren't forewarned about the potential for feeling numbness or tingling. There may be a quick and logical explanation. Or it could be a sign of a complication the provider should explore.

This article will explain why numbness is so common after surgery, how long it usually lasts, when it may be a sign of a problem, and when you should seek emergency care.

Causes

Numbness can occur after surgery for several reasons, especially if you received anesthesia. This group of medicines is used to blunt pain and sensation during surgery.

Anesthesia causes numbness on purpose. And it can last for hours or even days after surgery.

Anesthesia may linger longer after surgery if a nerve block was used. It is a more intense way of blocking pain. It involves injecting medicine around a specific nerve or cluster of nerves.

Either way, numbness after surgery can be a blessing. After all, you can't feel pain when you are numb to it.

Three other possible causes of numbness include:

Positioning

Remaining still on the surgical table for an extended period of time can cause numbness. And the longer the surgery, the greater the chance that numbness will occur.

You may know how this feels. After sitting too long with your legs crossed, one leg may “fall asleep." Or it may feel more like pins and needles.

The difference is, what if your leg falls asleep during surgery? You can't shift to a more comfortable position.

This is why many operating rooms feature padded surgical tables. They're meant for patients' well-being.

Incision Numbness

The area immediately around an incision (the surgical cut) is often numb after surgery. And it may continue to be numb for several months after surgery. 

This occurs when the nerves that run through a surgical site are damaged. Feeling often returns in the months following surgery.

Nerve Injury

An injury that cuts a nerve can also lead to numbness. For example, a severe cut on the lower leg could potentially cut through nerves. In this case, the area below the cut nerve could go numb.

It is also possible for a nerve to be cut during surgery. And it may be unavoidable.

Surgeons who work on the face understand the potential for nerve damage. A slight amount of facial nerve damage could affect a patient's ability to smile. It could even cause speech problems.

Numbness might develop soon after surgery if swelling disturbs the nerves. This becomes a bigger concern if a patient is placed in a hard cast or tight bandage.

Surgical Nerve Damage

Permanent nerve damage can be a potential side effect of surgery. Talk with your surgeon so you understand the risks beforehand.

When to Seek Emergency Care

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

  • Lose control of your urine
  • Lose control of your bowels
  • Cannot speak
  • Cannot walk
  • See or feel your face drooping, especially on one side
  • Experience intense muscle weakness
  • Feel severe numbness below your incision site after back or spine surgery

Numbness Can Improve

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

Nerve damage takes longer to resolve. It takes from six months to one year before physicians consider a recovery complete.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some patients may need more treatment to restore the sensation they lost.

Think of your leg feeling numb if you sit too long in the same position. Surgery raises the stakes since it also involves anesthesia and an incision. So it makes sense that you may feel numbness and tingling afterward.

In most cases, these sensations will go away after a few days. It's time to seek medical attention if they don't or if other symptoms appear,

Summary

It may help to think of numbness and tingling as natural side effects of surgery. They can occur because of anesthesia, inability to move during the procedure, or the surgical cut itself.

In most cases, numbness lasts for only a day or two after surgery. But if it persists, and certain signs flare up, it's time to seek medical attention.

Was this page helpful?
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Numbness.

  2. University of Rochester Medical Center. Understanding the "pins and needles" feeling.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Anesthesia.

  4. Su Y-K, Wang J-H, Hsieh S-Y, Liu X-Z, Lam C-F, Huang S-C. Incidence and risk factors for postoperative lingual neuropraxia following airway instrumentation: A retrospective matched case-control study. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(1):e0190589. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0190589

  5. Neal JM, Bernards CM, Hadzic A, et al. ASRA practice advisory on neurologic complications in regional anesthesia and pain medicineReg Anesth Pain Med. 2008;33(5):404–415. doi:10.1016/j.rapm.2008.07.527

  6. Reda B, Wong I. Postoperative numbness: a survey of patients after hip arthroscopic surgeryOrthop J Sports Med. 2018;6(5):2325967118771535. doi:10.1177/2325967118771535

  7. Kuponiyi O, Alleemudder DI, Latunde-Dada A, Eedarapalli P. Nerve injuries associated with gynaecological surgery. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. 2014;16:29–36. doi:10.1111/tog.12064

  8. Azizzadeh B, Mashkevich G. Nerve injuries and treatment in facial cosmetic surgery. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2009;21(1):23-9, v. doi:10.1016/j.coms.2008.10.003

  9. Woessner H, Vibhute P, Barrett K. Acute loss of bladder control in a stroke of the frontal cortexNeurohospitalist. 2012;2(4):129–131. doi:10.1177/1941874412450715

  10. Tzermpos FH, Cocos A, Kleftogiannis M, Zarakas M, Iatrou I. Transient delayed facial nerve palsy after inferior alveolar nerve block anesthesiaAnesth Prog. 2012;59(1):22–27. doi:10.2344/11-03.1

  11. Borsook D, Kussman BD, George E, Becerra LR, Burke DW. Surgically induced neuropathic pain: understanding the perioperative processAnn Surg. 2013;257(3):403–412. doi:10.1097/SLA.0b013e3182701a7b