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Structural changes in muscle and glenohumeral joint deformity in neonatal brachial plexus palsy.

BACKGROUND: Internal rotation contracture of the shoulder is common in children with neonatal brachial plexus palsy. A long-standing contracture may cause osseous deformities in the developing shoulder. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the relationship between osseous deformities of the glenohumeral joint and structural differences due to muscle denervation in the rotator cuff muscles.

METHODS: One hundred and two children with residual neonatal brachial plexus palsy underwent magnetic resonance imaging of both shoulders. The glenoid version and posterior, medial, and superior subluxation of the humeral head were measured. The shapes of the glenoid and the humeral head were categorized, and the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, and deltoid muscles were scored as being normal, atrophic, or atrophic with fatty degeneration.

RESULTS: Muscle degeneration was most prominent in the subscapularis muscle. Glenoid version correlated with the structural differences in the subscapularis muscle. Posterior subluxation of the humeral head and the shape of the glenoid correlated with all abnormal rotator cuff muscles. Superior humeral subluxation correlated only with changes in the supraspinatus muscle. Medialization and the shape of the humeral head were not associated with atrophic changes of the rotator cuff. Regeneration of the rotator cuff muscles was not significantly different in patients with a C5-C6 (C7) or a complete brachial plexus lesion. However, the changes in glenoid version, the degree of posterior humeral subluxation, and the degree of medial humeral subluxation were significantly more severe in patients with a C5-C6 (C7) lesion compared with those in patients with a complete lesion of the brachial plexus.

CONCLUSIONS: Structural differences in the rotator cuff muscles alter the direction of the humeral head forces on the developing glenoid fossa and can lead to osseous deformities. Glenohumeral deformities are significantly greater with a C5-C6 (C7) lesion than with a complete brachial plexus lesion in which the large internal rotators are also affected. Reducing the muscular imbalance that occurs with a C5-C6 (C7) lesion could diminish glenohumeral joint incongruency and may improve the outcome of subsequent soft-tissue release or tendon transfer surgery.

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