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Surgical Decompression of the Great Auricular Nerve: A Therapeutic Option for Neurapraxia following Rhytidectomy

Barbour, John R. M.D.; Iorio, Matthew L. M.D.; Halpern, David E. M.D.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: February 2014 - Volume 133 - Issue 2 - p 255–260
doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000436861.85892.a1
Cosmetic: Original Articles

Background: Great auricular nerve injuries are the most frequent nerve injuries following rhytidectomy, occurring at a rate of 6 percent. Short-scar techniques may decrease visualization and increase the risk of injury/compression of the great auricular nerve. Recent reviews have identified that great auricular nerve injury can contribute to long-term paresthesias and allodynia in a majority of patients. Identification of this injury, with subsequent exploration, wide release, and decompression, should be performed.

Methods: Four patients with injury of the great auricular nerve were referred for persistent allodynia as a complication of short-scar rhytidectomy. Following confirmation of a Tinel sign over the great auricular nerve, each patient underwent subsequent exploration and neurolysis.

Results: Diagnosis of compression and suture impingement was confirmed at exploration, and extensive decompression was performed with care taken to protect the nerve from postoperative scar formation. All patients noted postoperative improvement in symptoms, with nearly complete resolution at 6 months.

Conclusions: Minimally invasive techniques may impart increased risk of nerve injury in exchange for reduced scar length. In instances of great auricular nerve injury, progressive metabolic changes and increased vascular permeability allow for inflammatory cellular influx and fibrin deposition, compounding nerve dysfunction and symptomatic complaints. Noninvasive modalities may not alleviate complaints of pain and hyperesthesia, particularly in the event of suture compression. Persistent injuries can affect quality of life, with intrusive thoughts about symptoms, or an inability to perform grooming activities. Exploration and decompression of the great auricular nerve may offer a long-term solution for the patient with postrhytidectomy allodynia.


Washington, D.C.; and Tampa, Fla.

From the Department of Plastic Surgery, Georgetown University Hospital; and the Department of Surgery, Division of Plastic Surgery, University of South Florida.

Received for publication February 16, 2013; accepted June 26, 2013.

Disclosures: The authors have no financial interests in any of the products or techniques mentioned and have received no external support related to this study.

John R. Barbour, M.D., Department of Plastic Surgery, Georgetown University Hospital, 3800 Reservoir Road, NW, PHC, 1st Floor, Washington, D.C. 20007,

©2014American Society of Plastic Surgeons