How long until my arm feels normal again?
August 22, 2007 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Nerve Damage Filter: Do I need medical attention for my medical attention?

During an appointment with my PCP last Friday, he ordered some routine blood tests. When the nurse inserted the needle on the inside of my elbow to draw blood, it hurt A LOT. I'm sure she thought I was being a wuss, but my left arm hasn't been right since and after 5 days I'm beginning to get concerned.

I have tingling, pain and tightness radiating down my forearm, especially when I extend it completely or rotate my arm like I'm turning a doorknob. I'm not left-handed, but I'm mixed-handed and I drive a manual transmission, so my left arm gets a lot of use. Doing almost anything with my left arm causes some amount of pain/discomfort. Looking around online, I'd say that my primary area of discomfort runs down the deep branch of the radial nerve.

I plan to talk to my PCP at our follow-up appointment, but until then I'm wondering:

-- How long will this take to heal? Is there any liklihood that the damage is permanent?

-- How should I treat my symptoms? What sort of painkillers/therapeutic treatments can I do to calm the nerves in my arm?

-- Should I put my arm in a sling? I'm trying to be careful and not put too much stress on it, but I don't know if this warrents immobilizing my arm or not.

-- Finally, how do I address this with my PCP? A member of his staff injured me, and while I'm not eager to lawyer up the longer this goes on the more upset I'm getting. Does this happen often? Am I overreacting? Is there some kind of note I can get added to my patient file that says DON'T STICK JUNKBOX REAL HARD WITH NEEDLES OMGZ!!!

I know that you are not my doctor, that this is not medical advice, and that I should seek professional treatment. That's fine, but a professional did this to me in the first place.
posted by junkbox to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Peripheral nerves can regenerate, at a slow but steady rate. Something like 6 to 8 months depending on damage.

For what it's worth, it could be worse. I blew out a disc in my neck during a bike wreck nearly a month ago, pinched the phrenic nerve, now the right half of my diaphragm doesn't work properly, so I can't really breathe well. After a week or two it has gotten somewhat better but it still hurts to go running. Plus that whole issue with my shoulder muscles not responding well.

See a doc for a consult. They can run EMG tests to check nerve function, and they'll refer you to a neurosurgeon if you need it. That's what they've done with me. In the meantime, be patient - most of the time all you can do with peripheral damage is wait it out while it heals.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:04 AM on August 22, 2007

This is based on my personal, non-clinical experience. I am not a clinician.
Venipuncture is a tricky thing. Some people are good at it, others aren't. It is an acquired skill. I stopped giving blood and plasma because the people poking around for veins and the subsequent infiltrated veins were just too painful for me.
That being said--someone's lack of experience or skill is no excuse for a painful, injurious blood draw. There are two issues here: 1. the pain you are now experiencing, and 2. the actual venipuncture.
I would call your doctor's office to address #1 right now. Don't wait until your follow-up appointment. Call today. Get it triaged over the phone. Call and tell them what happened calmly and non-accusatorily.
Alternatively, If you have a nurse hotline available to you through your health plan, employer benefits, managed care organization or local hospital system, call them for the triage.
Regarding #2, I would bring it up at my follow-up appointment. You can tell your PCP at that time what happened, how it was triaged and what you did to treat it. But you really need to address your pain first.
posted by FergieBelle at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2007

I've donated blood for years without any problem, but one time I had someone who was very unexperienced stick me, and evidently go through the vein instead of in it. I had an extreme amount of pain when it happened, and it was still painful for about a week. I figured she probably touched a nerve. It went away after that week, with no problems after that.

I would just call your PCP. You don't have to be accusatory; just tell him the symptoms and say that this happened when the person inserted the needle in your vein, and it's worrying you and ask him if there's anything you should do about it.
posted by la petite marie at 7:08 AM on August 22, 2007

A friend of mine used to be a heroin addict. When she goes to the doctor, the nurses are invariably terrible at venipuncture, so eventually she just has to do it herself.

I would talk to your insurance company, and possibly a lawyer. I think you have a good malpractice case, especially if you need to drive to work daily.
posted by nasreddin at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2007

I have a similar condition.
I went to give blood, and it kind of hurted. After that, it left a small bump that feels very painful if I press it. That was many years ago.
Since then, I started going to the gym, and when I'm doing arm curls with a bar, I feel something like an electric shock, and I'm pretty sure it's coming from the same nerve, from looking at the pictures on wikipedia.
posted by PowerCat at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2007

Something similar happened to a friend of mine after a routine blood donation and ended up in fairly major surgery. I agree with those who suggest you should go in and get it checked out.
posted by irregardless at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2007

return to your doctor. you want this documented. if they try to brush you off, go to another. your nerve will regenerate, but you know what? if she broke your arm, it would heal. but in the meantime, you're in pain and can't do things properly. so follow up, definitely.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2007

Ouch. Definitely let your doctor know.

Next time you need to have blood drawn, ask for a "butterfly" needle. The needle is connected to a tube to prevent the vein from being torn up due to small movements that the nurse's hand makes. Oh, and the needle is a smaller guage as well. Your blood draws will go a bit easier.
posted by idiotfactory at 4:05 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Follow-up: I favored my left arm for about a week, and the pain/weirdness gradually lessened. It took 4-6 weeks for it to feel normal again when fully extended, but luckily the damage wasn't permanent. Everybody's responses were helpful, if only to reassure me that my concern was valid.
posted by junkbox at 7:38 PM on December 27, 2007

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