Nerve transfer surgery for adult brachial plexus injury: a 10-year experience at Louisiana State University

Olawale A R Sulaiman, Daniel D Kim, Clint Burkett, David G Kline
Neurosurgery 2009, 65 (4 Suppl): A55-62

OBJECTIVE: To review the clinical outcomes in our patients who have undergone nerve transfer operations for brachial plexus reconstruction at the Louisiana State University (LSU) over a 10-year period. A secondary objective is to compare clinical outcomes in patients who had only nerve transfer operations as compared with patients whose nerve transfers were supplemented with direct repair of brachial plexus elements.

METHODS: Retrospective review of the medical records, imaging, and electrodiagnostic studies (electromyographic and nerve conduction studies) of patients with brachial plexus injuries who underwent nerve transfer operations at LSU over a period of 10 years.

RESULTS: A total of 81 patients were treated between 1995 to 2005 at the LSU Health Sciences Center; 7 of these patients were lost to follow-up, leaving 74 patients, with an average follow-up of 3.5 years, for review. We evaluated recovery of elbow flexion and shoulder abduction. Ninety percent of patients with medial pectoral to musculocutaneous nerve transfers recovered to LSU grade 2 (Medical Research Council grade 3), and 60% of those patients with intercostal to musculocutaneous nerve transfer regained similar strength in elbow flexion. Shoulder abduction recovery to LSU grade 2 (Medical Research Council grade 3) after spinal accessory to suprascapular and/or thoracodorsal to axillary nerve transfer, was 95% and 36%, respectively. There was a tendency for better motor recovery when nerve transfer operations were combined with direct repair of plexus elements.

CONCLUSION: Nerve transfers for repair of brachial plexus injuries result in excellent recovery of elbow and shoulder functions. Patients who had direct repair of brachial plexus elements in addition to nerve transfers tended to do better than those who had only nerve transfer operations.

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