Challenges in sciatic nerve repair: Anatomical considerations: Laboratory investigation

S. Shelby Burks, David J. Levi, Seth Hayes, Allan D. Levi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Object. The object of this study was to highlight the challenge of insufficient donor graft material in peripheral nerve surgery, with a specific focus on sciatic nerve transection requiring autologous sural nerve graft. Methods. The authors performed an anatomical analysis of cadaveric sciatic and sural nerve tissue. To complement this they also present 3 illustrative clinical cases of sciatic nerve injuries with segmental defects. In the anatomical study, the cross-sectional area (CSA), circumference, diameter, percentage of neural tissue, fat content of the sural nerves, as well as the number of fascicles, were measured from cadaveric samples. The percentage of neural tissue was defined as the CSA of fascicles lined by perineurium relative to the CSA of the sural nerve surrounded by epineurium. Results. Sural nerve samples were obtained from 8 cadaveric specimens. Mean values and standard deviations from sural nerve measurements were as follows: CSA 2.84 ± 0.91 mm2, circumference 6.67 ± 1.60 mm, diameter 2.36 ± 0.43 mm, fat content 0.83 ± 0.91 mm2, and number of fascicles 9.88 ± 3.68. The percentage of neural tissue seen on sural nerve cross-section was 33.17% ± 4.96%. One sciatic nerve was also evaluated. It had a CSA of 37.50 mm2, with 56% of the CSA representing nerve material. The estimated length of sciatic nerve that could be repaired with a bilateral sural nerve harvest (85 cm) varied from as little as 2.5 cm to as much as 8 cm. Conclusions. Multiple methods have been used in the past to repair sciatic nerve injury but most commonly, when a considerable gap is present, autologous nerve grafting is required, with sural nerve being the foremost source. As evidenced by the anatomical data reported in this study, a considerable degree of variability exists in the diameter of sural nerve harvests. Conversely, the percentage of neural tissue is relatively consistent across specimens. The authors recommend that the peripheral nerve surgeon take these points into consideration during nerve grafting as insufficient graft material may preclude successful recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-218
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Anatomy
  • Injury
  • Nerve
  • Peripheral nerve
  • Repair
  • Sciatic
  • Sural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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