Sarcomere length changes after flexor carpi ulnaris to extensor digitorum communis tendon transfer

R L Lieber, E Pontén, T J Burkholder, J Fridén
Journal of Hand Surgery 1996, 21 (4): 612-8
Sarcomere length was measured intraoperatively on five patients undergoing tendon transfer of the flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU) to the extensor digitorum communis (EDC) for radial nerve palsy. The most significant result was that the absolute sarcomere length and sarcomere length operating range of the FCU increased after transfer into the EDC (p < .001). Preoperatively, with the wrist fully extended and fingers flexed, FCU sarcomere length was 4.22 +/- .24 microns and decreased to 3.19 +/- .05 microns as the wrist was fully flexed. This represented an overall sarcomere length range of 1.03 microns. After the tendon transfer using standard recommended techniques, all sarcomere lengths were significantly longer (p < .001). Specifically, sarcomeres were 0.74 +/- .14 microns longer with the muscle in its fully lengthened position (4.96 +/- .43 microns with the wrist and digits flexed) and 0.31 +/- .16 microns longer with the FCU in the fully shortened position (3.50 +/- .06 microns with the wrist and digits extended). At these sarcomere lengths, the FCU muscle was predicted to develop relatively high force only during movement involving synergistic wrist flexion and finger extension. Under the conditions of the procedures performed, the transferred FCU muscle was predicted to produce maximum force over the range of about 30 degrees of wrist flexion and 0 degree of finger flexion to 70 degrees of wrist extension and 90 degrees of finger flexion. While this is acceptable, a more desirable result was predicted to occur if the muscle was transferred at a longer length. In this latter case, greater stretch of the FCU during transfer (increasing sarcomere length to about 5 microns) was predicted to improve the transfer. The more highly stretched FCU was predicted to result in maximum force as the wrist and fingers progressed from about 60 degrees of wrist extension and 0 degree of finger flexion to 80 degrees of wrist extension and 70 degrees of finger flexion. These results quantify the relationship between the passive tension chosen for transfer, sarcomere length, and the estimated active tension that can be generated by the muscle. The results also demonstrate the feasibility of using intraoperative laser diffraction during tendon transfer as a guide for optimal placement of the transferred muscle.

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