[Tendon transposition to restore muscle function in the hand]

A Gohritz, J Fridén, C Herold, M Aust, M Spies, P M Vogt
Der Unfallchirurg 2007, 110 (9): 759-76
Nerve injuries in the upper extremity can result in severe disability. In the last three decades, progress in microsurgical techniques has improved the outcome for nerve injuries and if the prognosis is reasonably good, nerve repair should usually be performed prior to tendon transfer procedures. However, above all proximal lesions of peripheral nerves such as high radial nerve palsy still often yield unsatisfactory results, despite a technically well-executed nerve repair. Prognosis further depends on the time interval since the injury and also on the age of the patient, as the regenerative process is delayed in older patients. The indication for tendon transfers strongly depends on the personal and professional profiles of the individual patient. Tendon transfer procedures alleviate the suffering from functional hand impairment providing a superior alternative to permanent external splints. Tendon transfers are usually secondary procedures for replacing function after evaluation of the functional motor loss. Numerous transfer procedures have been described for every nerve trunk of the upper extremity, their prognosis depending mainly on the extent and pattern of nerve loss, local effects of the trauma (e.g. involvement of soft tissues, joints), and the physiological characteristics of the transferred muscle. Even if the results of the tendon transfers may finally be less satisfactory in cases of complex nerve damage than in isolated motor nerve lesions, they offer a valuable functional benefit, often being the only possibility to restore hand function. Although regrettably underused, tendon transfer improve upper extremity function in more than 70% of patients with cervical spinal cord injury. Reconstruction of key elements such as wrist extension, key grip between the thumb and the index finger, or digital flexion and extension leads to highly improved use of the tetraplegic hand and thus provides new mobility and independence from the help of others. This article presents an overview of the most common procedures to restore hand function in peripheral nerve injuries and tetraplegia in order to provide a systematic approach for decision making.

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