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An anatomical study was performed to define the course of the radial nerve in the posterior aspect of the arm, with particular reference to its relationship to operative exposures of the posterior aspect of the humeral diaphysis. In ten cadaveric specimens, the radial nerve was found to cross the posterior aspect of the humerus from an average of 20.7 +/- 1.2 centimeters proximal to the medial epicondyle to 14.2 +/- 0.6 centimeters proximal to the lateral epicondyle. As it crossed the posterior aspect of the humerus in each specimen, the nerve had several branches to the lateral head of the triceps; however, no branches were found innervating the medial head of the triceps in the posterior aspect of any of the specimens. At the lateral aspect of the humerus, the nerve trifurcated into a branch to the medial head of the triceps, the lower lateral brachial cutaneous nerve, and the continuation of the radial nerve into the distal part of the upper arm and the forearm.Three operative approaches were performed in each specimen. The posterior triceps-splitting approach exposed an average of 15.4 +/- 0.8 centimeters of the humerus from the lateral epicondyle to the point at which the radial nerve crossed the posterior aspect of the humerus. For the second approach, the radial nerve was mobilized proximally to allow an additional six centimeters of the humeral diaphysis to be visualized. The third approach (the modified posterior approach) involved the identification of the radial nerve distally as it crossed the lateral aspect of the humerus, followed by reflection of both the lateral and the medial heads of the triceps medially. This exposure permitted visualization of 26.2 +/- 0.4 centimeters of the humeral diaphysis from the lateral epicondyle proximally.The results after use of the modified posterior approach in seven patients were also reviewed.