Surgical positioning injuries and medical malpractice

A new client recently called our office about some unusual symptoms that he experienced after a cervical spine surgery at a Kingwood, Texas area hospital.

As soon as he woke up from general anesthesia, he complained that his right shoulder hurt so bad that it felt like he had been hit by a truck. He also noticed that he could not lift his arm and was having difficulty breathing. The nurses and his surgeon assured him that everything would be fine. They discharged him from the hospital.

The patient grew concerned as days turned into weeks and there was no improvement. About three weeks after the surgery, he had a nerve study done. When his surgeon saw the results, he told him that he needed another surgery to fix the problem. Unfortunately, that did not work.

This middle-aged man has now seen several other neurosurgeons, but all of them are unwilling to get involved in his care and instead sent him back to his original surgeon. This is frustrating for him, of course, because it was that original surgeon that caused this problem in the first place.

I have seen this happen time and time again. Surgeons are sometimes hesitant or afraid to get involved in the medical care of a patient who is injured by someone else’s negligence.

One of the neurosurgeons that he consulted suggested that his injuries are similar to those of Erb’s palsy, which can happen during labor and delivery of a baby.  The new surgeon believes that the patient likely experienced his nerve injuries because his arm and shoulder were not positioned correctly during surgery.

Over the years, I have handled all kinds of cases involving position injuries during surgery. One common type of injury occurs when operating room nurses or anesthesia providers failed to cushion, pad, pillow, or protect the elbows during surgery. In these situations, the ulnar nerve, which runs along the funny bone, may be compressed. This can cause a claw deformity and motor problems in the affected hand.

Other surgical position injuries don’t involve padding and protection, but rather originate when a surgeon hyperextends an arm, for example, as part of gaining access to a surgical site. Stretching out an arm like that can be rather dangerous because a big bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus runs through the armpit area.

In my experience, injuries like this can occur during surgery when a nerve is stretched, compressed, or otherwise damaged by poor positioning or extreme movement of a body part during the procedure. This can often happen to the numerous nerves of the brachial plexus and even the phrenic nerve.

In this man’s case, his symptoms and the timing that they developed demonstrate that he has at least two nerve injuries. First, it is clear that his phrenic nerve was injured during the surgery. The phrenic nerve originates in the neck of the same spinal levels where he was having the surgical procedure. Plus, the phrenic nerve has an important role in breathing by helping control the diaphragm. Second, another upper extremity motor nerve to his arm must also have been damaged during the surgery because he still cannot lift or move his arm and fingers on one side.

One of the risks of surgical injuries of this nature is that surgeons often recommend that patients just give it time to heal. In some situations, this advice may be true. Conditions like neurapraxia, whether as a temporary nerve injury, improve within a few months. Other nerve injuries, though, become permanent if they are not addressed very quickly.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor medical, surgical, or hospital care, then the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.

All consultations are free and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.