OBJECTIVES: To analyse the character of morphological changes occurring in a well defined peripheral nerve in humans exposed to vibration from hand held tools. METHODS: Biopsies of the dorsal interosseus nerve just proximal to the wrist were taken from 10 men exposed to vibration and from 12 male age matched necropsy controls. The nerve was resected for pain relief either as the sole procedure or in conjunction with carpal tunnel release. All specimens were sectioned and examined by light microscopy in standard sections, thin epon sections, and teasing preparations. RESULTS: The combined results of the analyses showed pathological changes in all 10 patients dominated by breakdown of myelin and by interstitial and perineurial fibrosis. All but one of the 12 controls were normal. CONCLUSION: These findings often show severe nerve injury previously not described at this level. They indicate that demyelination may be the primary lesion in neuropathy induced by vibration followed by fibrosis associated with incomplete regeneration or with organisation of oedema. Vibration can induce structural changes in peripheral nerves just proximal to the wrist and such changes may constitute a structural component in carpal tunnel syndrome among people exposed to vibration. This may help to explain the poor results achieved by carpal tunnel release in these patients.
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