OBJECTIVES: A systematic review to assess the evidence supporting surgical repair of digital nerve injury versus no repair in adults in terms of clinical outcomes. DESIGN: A Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses-compliant systematic review with methodology based on the Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Interventions. DATA SOURCES: Databases included OvidMEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED, clinicaltrials.gov and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, searched from inception until 10 November 2018. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: Adult digital nerve injury in which either direct repair or no repair was undertaken and an outcome measure was recorded. DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS: Study data extracted included demographics, injury type and extent, timing, treatment details, outcome data and time points, adverse outcomes, hand therapy and return to work. The National Institute of Health quality assessment tool for case series was used to assess risk of bias. RESULTS: Thirty studies were included. One compared surgical repair with non-repair. All studies were case series of between 15 and 110 nerve injuries, with heterogeneous patient, injury and treatment characteristics. Two studies detailed nerve repair without magnification. Static 2-point discrimination (s2PD) was the most commonly reported outcome measure. Return of protective sensation was achieved in most cases in the nerve repair and no nerve repair groups. Repair resulted in better s2PD than no repair, but <25% repaired nerves achieved normal levels. Adverse outcomes were similar between repair and no repair groups. CONCLUSIONS: Only level IV evidence is available to support surgical repair of digital nerves in adults. Return of normal sensibility is uncommon and almost all unrepaired nerves regained protective sensation by 6 months and all patients declined further surgery. There was no difference in adverse outcomes. There is currently a lack of high-quality evidence to support surgical repair of digital nerve injuries in adults and further research is needed. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42017065092.
digital nerve, nerve injury, nerve repair