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Surgical strategy for improving forearm and hand function in late obstetric brachial plexus palsy.

For the purpose of treatment, obstetric brachial plexus palsy can be subdivided into two distinct phases: initial obstetric brachial plexus palsy, and late obstetric brachial plexus palsy. In the latter, nerve surgery is no longer practical, and treatment often requires palliative surgery to improve function of the shoulder, elbow, forearm, and hand. Late obstetric brachial plexus palsy in the forearm and hand includes weakness or absence of wrist or metacarpophalangeal or interphalangeal joint extension; weakness or absence of finger flexion; forearm supination, or less commonly pronation contracture; ulnar deviation of the wrist; dislocation of the radial or ulnar head; thumb instability; or sensory disturbance of the hand. Palliative reconstruction for these forearm and hand manifestations is more difficult than for the shoulder or elbow because of the lack of powerful regional muscles for transfer. This report reviews the authors' experience performing more than 100 surgical procedures in 54 patients over a 9-year period (between 1988 and 1997) with a minimum of 2 years' follow-up. Surgical treatment is highly individualized, but the optimal age for forearm and hand reconstruction is usually later than for shoulder and elbow reconstruction because of the requirement for a preoperative exercise program. Multiple procedures for forearm and hand function were often performed on any given patient. Frequently, these were done simultaneously with reconstructive procedures for improving shoulder and/or elbow function. Traditional tendon transfer techniques do not provide satisfactory reconstruction for those deformities. Many of the authors' patients required more complex techniques such as nerve transfer and functioning free-muscle transplantation to augment traditional techniques of tendon and/or bone management. Sensory disturbance of the forearm and hand in late obstetric brachial plexus palsy seems a minor problem and further sensory reconstruction is unnecessary.

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