Serratus Anterior Dysfunction: Recognition and Treatment

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Recognition of scapular winging may be difficult, and potential errors in treatment can result. Such treatment errors may cause morbidity for the patient. In addition, electrical evidence of long thoracic nerve injury usually is required to confirm the etiology of scapular winging as being caused by serratus anterior dysfunction. Although various conditions may result in scapular winging, primary serratus anterior dysfunction can be treated effectively by transfer of the pectoralis major tendon; however, this surgical approach sometimes may give an unacceptable cosmesis, and there may be local morbidity to the donor site of the iliotibial band graft that is used to augment the tendon transfer. The authors report eight patients with primary chronic scapulothoracic winging refractory to conservative treatment. Five of these patients had an incorrect diagnosis, and this resulted in 17 surgical procedures without resolution of their pain or improvement of function. Of the eight patients who required additional surgery to stabilize the scapula, only five patients had an electromyographic study that showed long thoracic nerve palsy, although all patients had profound scapulothoracic winging. All patients underwent a modified pectoralis major transfer with autogenous semitendinosus and gracilis tendon augmentation using two small incisions. Although one patient had a postoperative infection develop, the remaining seven patients had resolution of their winging, improved function, and satisfactory cosmesis.

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