Nerve Transfer versus Interpositional Nerve Graft Reconstruction for Posttraumatic, Isolated Axillary Nerve Injuries: A Systematic Review

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Abstract

Background:

The purpose of this study was to compare functional outcomes between nerve grafting and nerve transfer procedures in the setting of isolated, posttraumatic axillary nerve injuries.

Methods:

A systematic review was performed using the PubMed, Scopus, and Cochrane databases to identify all cases of isolated, posttraumatic axillary nerve injuries in patients aged 18 years or older. Patients who underwent axillary nerve reconstruction were included and categorized by technique: graft or transfer. Demographics were recorded, including age, time to operation, and presence of concomitant injuries. Functional outcomes were evaluated, including British Medical Research Council strength and range of motion for shoulder abduction.

Results:

Ten retrospective studies met criteria, for a total of 66 patients (20 nerve grafts and 46 nerve transfers). Median time from injury to operation was equivalent across the nerve graft and nerve transfer groups (8.0 months versus 7.0 months; p = 0.41). Postoperative follow-up was 24.0 months for nerve grafting versus 18.5 months for nerve transfer (p = 0.13). Clinically useful shoulder abduction, defined as British Medical Research Council grade M3 or greater, was obtained in 100 percent of nerve graft patients versus 87 percent of nerve transfer patients (p = 0.09). Grade M4 or better strength was obtained in 85 percent of nerve graft patients and 73.9 percent of nerve transfer patients (p = 0.32).

Conclusions:

Significant differences in functional outcomes between nerve graft and transfer procedures for posttraumatic axillary nerve injuries are not apparent at this time. Prospective outcomes studies are needed to better elucidate whether functional differences do exist.

CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:

Therapeutic, IV.

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