Comparison of Surgical Strategies between Proximal Nerve Graft and/or Nerve Transfer and Distal Nerve Transfer Based on Functional Restoration of Elbow Flexion: A Retrospective Review of 147 Patients

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Abstract

Background:

Surgical strategy to treat incomplete brachial plexus injury with palsies of the shoulder and elbow by using proximal nerve graft/transfer or distal nerve transfer is still debated. The aim of this study was to compare both strategies with respect to the recovery of elbow flexion.

Methods:

One hundred forty-seven patients were enrolled: 76 patients underwent reconstruction using proximal nerve graft/transfer, and 71 patients underwent reconstruction using distal nerve transfer. All patients were evaluated preoperatively and postoperatively to assess the recovery rate and muscle strength of elbow flexion. Shoulder abduction and hand grip power were also recorded to assess any concomitant postoperative changes between the two methods.

Results:

The best recovery rate for functional elbow flexion (p = 0.006) and the fastest recovery to M3 strength (p < 0.001) were found in the double fascicular transfer group. However, recovery of shoulder abduction with proximal nerve graft/transfer was significantly better than with distal nerve transfer (80.3 percent versus 66.2 percent in shoulder abduction ≥60 degrees; and 56.6 percent versus 38.0 percent in shoulder abduction ≥90 degrees). A significant decrease in grip strength between the operative and nonoperative hands was also found in patients undergoing distal nerve transfer (p = 0.001).

Conclusions:

Proximal nerve graft/transfer offers more accurate diagnosis and proper treatment to restore shoulder and elbow function simultaneously. Distal nerve transfer can offer more efficient elbow flexion. Combined, both strategies in primary nerve reconstruction are especially recommended when there is no healthy or not enough donor nerve available.

CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:

Therapeutic, III.

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