Anatomy of the lateral antebrachial cutaneous and superficial radial nerves in the forearm: a cadaveric and clinical study

Steven Beldner, Dan A Zlotolow, Charles P Melone, Ann Marie Agnes, Morgan H Jones
Journal of Hand Surgery 2005, 30 (6): 1226-30

PURPOSE: To define the anatomy of the lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve (LACN) and the superficial radial nerve (SRN) in relation to easily identifiable landmarks in the dorsoradial forearm to minimize the risk to both nerves during surgical approaches to the dorsal radius.

METHODS: In this study 37 cadaveric forearms and 20 patients having distal radius external fixation were dissected to identify these nerves in relation to various anatomic landmarks.

RESULTS: Based on these dissections the anatomy was divided into 2 zones that can be identified by easily visible and palpable landmarks. Zone 1 extends from the elbow to the cross-over of the abductor pollicis longus with the extensor carpi radialis brevis and longus. Zone 2 is distal to the cross-over. In zone 1 the 2 nerves can be differentiated through limited incisions based on their depth and anatomic location. Within this zone the SRN is deep to the brachioradialis until 1.8 cm proximal to zone 2 (9 cm proximal to the radial styloid), where it becomes superficial and pierces the fascia of the mobile wad and then remains deep to the subcutaneous fat. In contrast the LACN pierces the fascia between the brachialis and biceps muscles at the level of the elbow. In all specimens the LACN ran parallel to the cephalic vein within the subcutaneous fat. In 31 specimens it ran volar to the vein and in 5 specimens the nerve crossed under the cephalic vein at the elbow and ran dorsal to the vein in the forearm. One specimen had 2 branches with 1 on either side of the vein. Differentiation of these nerves was found to be possible through limited incisions in zone 1 during placement of external fixation pins for distal radius fractures. The LACN always was located in the superficial fat running with the cephalic vein, whereas the SRN was deeper to this nerve either covered by the brachioradialis or closely adherent to it within the investing fascia of the mobile wad. In zone 2 the nerves arborized and ran in the same tissue plane, making differentiation through limited incisions difficult.

CONCLUSIONS: Dividing forearm anatomy into zones aids in understanding the complex 3-dimensional anatomy. Recognition of the consistent location of both the LACN and SRN facilitates surgical exposure. This allows localization through limited incisions during nerve repair and hardware placement, thereby enhancing uncomplicated and favorable outcomes.

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