Nerve root grafting and distal nerve transfers for C5-C6 brachial plexus injuries

Jayme Augusto Bertelli, Marcos Flávio Ghizoni
Journal of Hand Surgery 2010, 35 (5): 769-75

PURPOSE: To investigate the results of distal nerve transfer, with and without nerve root grafting, in C5-C6 palsy of the brachial plexus.

METHODS: We prospectively studied 37 young adults with C5-C6 brachial plexus palsy who underwent surgical repair an average of 6.3 months after trauma. In 7 patients, no nerve roots were available for grafting, so reconstruction was achieved by transferring the accessory nerve to the suprascapular nerve, ulnar nerve fascicles to the biceps motor branch, and triceps branches to the axillary nerve (a triple nerve transfer). In 24 patients, C5 nerve root grafting to the anterior division of the upper trunk was combined with triple nerve transfer. In 6 patients, the C5+C6 nerve roots were grafted to the anterior and posterior divisions of the upper trunk, the accessory nerve was transferred to the suprascapular nerve, and ulnar nerve fascicles were connected to the biceps motor branch. The range of shoulder abduction/external rotation recovery and elbow flexion strength were evaluated between 24 and 26 months after surgery.

RESULTS: Both full abduction and full external rotation of the shoulder were restored in one of the 7 patients in the C5 and C6 nerve root avulsion group, in 14 of 21 patients who received C5 nerve root grafting, and in 2 of 6 patients in the C5+C6 nerve root graft group. The average percentages of elbow flexion strength recovery, relative to the normal, contralateral side, were 27%, 43%, and 59% for the C5-C6 nerve root avulsion, C5 nerve root graft, and C5+C6 nerve root graft groups, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: We repaired C5-C6 brachial plexus palsies using a combination of strategies depending on the site of root injury (ie, intradural vs extradural). Patients with injuries that were able to be reconstructed with both root grafting and nerve transfers had the best function. These results suggest that the combined use of nerve transfers and root grafting may enhance outcomes in the reconstruction of C5-C6 injuries of the brachial plexus.

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