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Nerve entrapment, common in diabetes, is considered an associated phenomenon without large consequence in the development of diabetes complications such as ulceration, infection, amputation, and early mortality. This prospective analysis, with controls, of the ulcer recurrence rate after operative nerve decompression (ND) offers an objective perspective on the possibility of frequent occult nerve entrapment in the diabetic foot complication cascade.
A multicenter cohort of 42 patients with diabetic sensorimotor polyneuropathy, failed pharmacologic pain control, palpable pulses, and at least one positive Tinel's nerve percussion sign was treated with unilateral multiple lower-leg external neurolyses for the indication of pain. All of the patients had healed at least one previous ipsilateral plantar diabetic foot ulceration (DFU). This group was retrospectively evaluated a minimum of 12 months after operative ND and again 3 years later. The recurrence risk of ipsilateral DFU in that period was prospectively analyzed and compared with new ulcer occurrence in the contralateral intact, nonoperated control legs.
Operated legs developed two ulcer recurrences (4.8%), and nine contralateral control legs developed ulcers (21.4%), requiring three amputations. Ulcer risk is 1.6% per patient per year in ND legs and 7% in nonoperated control legs (P = .048).
Adding operative ND at lower-leg fibro-osseous tunnels to standard postulcer treatment resulted in a significantly diminished rate of subsequent DFU in neuropathic high-risk feet. This is prospective, objective evidence that ND can provide valuable ongoing protection from DFU recurrence, even years after primary ulcer healing.