This study tested the validity of a quantitative in vitro nerve-tension-measuring technique, by correlating the tension measurements with functional and morphologic assessments of nerve regeneration. Initially, harvested nerves were used in vitro to determine a K value for lateral displacement in this tissue. Next, this value was used to calculate the tension of nerve repair, following 0-, 3-, 6-, and 9-mm resections of nerves in groups of rats. After quantifying the nerve tensions following excision and repair, the authors determined a sciatic function index to evaluate functional recovery and axon diameter in the animals. Functional recovery was significantly impaired in animals with elevated measurable tension (9.04 +/- 0.74 g in a 6-mm defect, 27.76 +/- 8.86 g in a 9-mm defect), compared to animals with no or 3-mm excision and measured tension of 3.3 +/- 1.09 g or less. Increased tension was also associated with a significant decrease in axon diameter. This study succeeded, therefore, in quantitatively relating the elements of measured nerve tension, nerve gaps, functional nerve recovery, and morphologic regeneration. Quantification of nerve tension by lateral displacement in vivo offers a possible solution to clinical management of nerve gaps, when the choice between primary repair and nerve grafting is not a clear one.