Return to sporting activity after ulnar nerve transposition for isolated neuritis in competitive overhead athletes

Gregory P Nicholson, Allison J Rao, Amanda J Naylor, Brian R Waterman, Michael C O'Brien, Anthony A Romeo, Mark S Cohen
Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery 2020, 29 (7): 1401-1405

BACKGROUND: Although ulnar neuritis can occur secondary to ulnar collateral ligament pathology, stress fractures, and traction apophysitis, isolated ulnar nerve dysfunction can lead to medial elbow pain. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the short-term outcomes of overhead athletes undergoing anterior ulnar nerve transposition for ulnar neuropathy.

METHODS: All overhead athletes who underwent isolated ulnar nerve transposition between 2009 and 2016 for refractory ulnar neuritis were identified. The primary outcome was return to sport, and secondary outcome measures included the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic score; Mayo Elbow Performance Score; Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand score; Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation score; and visual analog scale score for pain. Complication and reoperation rates were recorded.

RESULTS: A total of 26 overhead athletes (21 male and 5 female athletes) underwent ulnar nerve transposition at an average age of 18.4 years (range, 11-25 years). Of the patients, 24 (92%) returned to their sporting activity at an average of 2.7 months postoperatively, including 16 (62%) at the previous level of play. The average visual analog scale pain score improved from 4.7 (±2.5) to 0.4 (±1.5) (P = .015). The average postoperative patient-reported outcome scores were as follows: Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic score, 80 (95% confidence interval [CI], 72.7-87.0); Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation score, 85 (95% CI, 75.4-94.7); Quick Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand score, 5 (95% CI, 2.1-7.7); and Mayo Elbow Performance Score, 91 (95% CI, 86.8-96.0).

CONCLUSION: Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause medial elbow pain in overhead athletes in the presence of a normal ulnar collateral ligament. At mid-term follow-up, 92% of overhead athletes returned to sport after ulnar nerve transposition, with 62% resuming their previous level of performance.

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