The course of the distal saphenous nerve: a cadaveric investigation and clinical implications.Iowa Orthop J. 2011; 31:231-5.IO
Injury to the saphenous nerve at the ankle has been described as a complication resulting from incision and dissection over the distal tibia and medial malleolus. However, the exact course and location of the distal saphenous nerve is not well described in the literature. The purpose of this study was to determine the distal limit of the saphenous nerve and its anatomic relationship to commonly identified orthopaedic landmarks and surgical incisions.
Sixteen cadaveric ankles were examined at the level of the distal tibia medial malleolus. An incision was made along the medial aspect of the lower extremity from the knee to the hallux to follow the course and branches of the saphenous nerve under direct visualization. We recorded the shortest distance from the most distal visualized portion of the saphenous nerve to the tip of the medial malleolus, to the antero-medial arthroscopic portal site, and to the tibialis anterior tendon.
The saphenous nerve runs posterior to the greater saphenous vein in the leg and divides into an anterior and posterior branch approximately 3 cm proximal to the tip of the medial malleolus. These branches terminate in the integument proximal to the tip of the medial malleolus, while the vein continues into the foot. The anterior branch ends at the anterior aspect of the medial malleolus near the posterior edge of the greater saphenous vein. The posterior branch ends near the posterior aspect of the medial malleolus. The average distance from the distal-most visualized aspect of the saphenous nerve to the tip of the medial malleolus measured 8mm +/-; 5mm; from the nerve to the medial arthroscopic portal measured 14mm +/-2mm; and from the nerve to the tibialis anterior measured 16mm +/-3mm. In only one case (of 16) was there an identifiable branch of the saphenous nerve extending to the foot and in this specimen it extended to the first metatarsophalangeal joint. The first metatarsophalangeal joint was innervated by the superficial peroneal nerve in all cases. Small variations were also noted.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
This study highlights the proximity of the distal saphenous nerve to common landmarks in orthopaedic surgery. This has important clinical implications in ankle arthroscopy, tarsal tunnel syndrome, fixation of distal tibia medial malleolar fractures, and other procedures centered about the medial malleolus. While the distal course of the saphenous nerve is generally predictable, variations exist and thus the orthopaedic surgeon must operate cautiously to prevent iatrogenic injury. To avoid saphenous nerve injury, incisions should stay distal to the tip of the medial malleolus. The medial arthroscopic portal should be more than one centimeter from the anterior aspect of the medial malleolus which will also avoid the greater saphenous vein. Incision over the anterior tibialis tendon should stay within one centimeter of the medial edge of the tendon.