Functional restoration of elbow flexion in brachial plexus injuries: results in 167 patients (excluding obstetric brachial plexus injury)

D C Chuang, M D Epstein, M C Yeh, F C Wei
Journal of Hand Surgery 1993, 18 (2): 285-91
From 1985 to 1990, 167 patients were treated for impaired elbow flexion caused by brachial plexus injury. Surgical procedures were divided into two categories: nerve reconstruction (128 patients) and muscle or tendon transfers (39 patients). Surgery in the nerve reconstruction group included direct suturing, nerve grafting of portions of the brachial plexus responsible for elbow flexion, or nerve transfer (intercostal, phrenic, or spinal accessory nerve) to the musculocutaneous nerve. The second category included tendon or muscle transfer or a functioning free muscle transplantation for biceps replacement. Results were assessed by the Medical Research Council grading system and weight-lifting evaluation. Functional results revealed that nerve reconstruction was superior to muscle tendon transfers, direct suturing was superior to nerve grafting, short nerve grafts (< 10 cm) were superior to long nerve grafts (> 10 cm), infraclavicular plexus injuries did better than supraclavicular injuries, vascularized ulnar nerve grafts (if indicated) were superior to conventional long nerve grafts, ruptured plexus injuries recovered better than root avulsions. Intercostal nerve transfer to the musculocutaneous nerve has satisfactory results. In the muscle tendon transfer group, Steindler flexorplasty resulted in upgrading muscle strength from level one to level two. Functioning free muscle transplantation had results similar to the latissimus dorsi transfer.

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