Chronic Oedema of the Leg. - In some cases there is a distinct swelling of the leg some time after the operation. This exposes the limb to the infliction of sores from striking with the opposite foot, with, of course, the difficulty in healing we have just described.
Persistent Pruritus. - This annoying sequel occurs in the neurectomized limb, with or without gelatinous degeneration, and appears to be without a remedy. The itching in some cases is so intense as to lead the animal to constantly gnaw at the top of the foot. As one observer has remarked, the animal may begin literally biting pieces out of his limb. The result of the irritation and gnawing is fatal. Great sloughing of the parts takes place, and the animal has eventually to be slaughtered.
Fracture of the Bones. - The sudden loss of sensation in a foot may cause the animal to use violently the limb he has for months past been carefully nursing. It may be that the lameness for which the operation has been performed has been due to disease existing in the navicular bone, and extending, perhaps, to the os pedis. By the disease the bone has already been made brittle, its substance and ligamentous attachments perchance weakened and broken up by a slow-spreading caries, and rarefaction of the remaining bone substance rendered almost certain. In this instance, the free use of the foot, and the application to the diseased structures of an unwonted pressure immediately after the operation results in fracture. With the rupture of the structures we get the elevated toe and soft swelling in the heel, as described in gelatinous degeneration. Treatment, of course, is out of the question.
Neuroma. - A further sequel is the appearance at the seat of the operation of what is termed an 'amputational neuroma.' This is a tumour-like growth occurring on the end of the divided nerve. It is composed of connective-tissue elements permeated by nerve fibres which have grown out from the axis-cylinders of the nerve stump. It may vary in size from a pea to a hazel-nut, and is frequently the cause of much pain. This must be cut down upon and cleanly removed, taking away at the same time as much of the nerve as is possible.
Reunion of the Divided Nerve. - We may say at once that 'reunion' in the popular sense of the word does not take place. At a varying period after section, however, we do get a return of sensation. This is brought about in the following manner: The axis-cylinder of the nerve, still in connection with the spinal cord, swells somewhat, and hypertrophies. The cells of this hypertrophied portion show a great tendency to proliferate and produce new nerve structure. This growing point splits, and gives rise to several fibrils, which are new axis-cylinders. These commence to grow towards the periphery, and, in so doing, grow through the cicatricial tissue that has formed at the seat of the operation.
After passing through the cicatricial tissue (the amount of which tissue, of course, controls the length of time that insensibility remains), the growing axis-cylinders reach the degenerated portions of the nerve below the point of section. It is along the track of the old nerve that the new growths from the stump reproduce themselves.
The fact of the new growths having to pass through the fibrous tissue of the cicatrix before they can gain the course of the old nerve, along which latter their progress of growth is comparatively easy, affords ample illustration that as large a portion as is possible of the nerve should be removed when operating, in order to convey insensibility for the longest time. After reunion, of course, nothing remains but to repeat the operation.
The Existence of an Adventitious Nerve-supply. - While not exactly a sequel of the operation, the fact that it is not discovered until after the operation has been performed warrants us in mentioning it here. It is not an uncommon thing in the lower operation to find that sensation and symptoms of lameness still persist after section of the nerve. In many cases this has been traced to the existence of an abnormal nerve branch. In the higher operation this is not so likely to be met with. That it may occur, however, is shown by the following interesting case related by Harold Sessions, F.R.C.V.S.:[A]
[Footnote A: Journal of Comparative Pathology and Therapeutics, vol. xii., p. 343.]
'In June of 1898 I saw a hunter suffering from navicular disease. After carefully examining the leg, I advised the owner to have the operation of neurectomy performed upon him. This he decided to do, and the horse was sent to me about the beginning of July.
Fig. 62. - Dissected External Metacarpal Nerve And Branches. A, Metacarpal; B, Anterior Plantar; C, Extra Branch (Probably From The Internal Metacarpal), Conveying Sensation After Division Of The External Metacarpal.
'The operation was performed in the ordinary way, without any difficulty whatever. The wounds healed nicely, but the horse still continued to go lame. Careful examination showed that there was still sensation on the outside of the foot. Thinking that possibly there might be two external metacarpal nerves, the horse was again cast, the operation being performed slightly lower down. Only the main branch of the external metacarpal nerve could be found. A piece of this was taken out, and the horse let up. On examination, sensation was still found in the posterior part of the outside of the foot. It was very evident that there was some abnormal distribution of the nerve, as sensation was still being conveyed to that part of the foot.
'As the horse was absolutely useless, and would have to be shot unless this piece of nerve could be found, he was again thrown, and after he had been anaesthetized I determined to follow the course of the nerve down, until I found where the accessory branch came from. This I found a little below the fetlock, about 1/2 inch below the point where the anterior plantar nerve is given off from the metacarpal nerve. It was about 1/2 inch below the spot where the anterior plantar nerve passes between the artery and vein of the foot, and it was somewhat difficult to get at it.
'Fig. 62 shows the exact size and distribution of the nerves. After the separation of the accessory branch, sensation was taken from the foot, and the horse went perfectly sound.'
Stumbling. - In addition to the sequelae we have mentioned, it is urged against the operation of neurectomy that one of the first effects of depriving the foot of the sense of touch is a tendency on the part of the animal to stumble. From the cases we have seen we cannot regard this objection as a serious one. Nevertheless, as veterinarians, with a knowledge of the physiology of the structures with which we are dealing, we must treat the objection with respect, for, after all, we are bound to allow that stumbling, and a bad form of it, would be but a natural sequence of the operation we have just performed. The real fact remains, however, that cases of stumbling, even immediately after the operation, are rare; and that even when they do occur, the animal seems easily able to accommodate himself to the altered condition, and as readily uses the comparatively inert mass at the end of his limb as he did previously the intact foot.