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Tendon Transfer Options About the Shoulder in Patients with Brachial Plexus Injury

Elhassan, Bassem MD; Bishop, Allen T. MD; Hartzler, Robert U. MD; Shin, Alexander Y. MD; Spinner, Robert J. MD

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume: 1 August 2012 - Volume 94 - Issue 15 - p 1391–1398
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.J.01913
Scientific Articles

Background: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the early outcome of shoulder tendon transfer in patients with brachial plexus injury and to determine the factors associated with favorable outcomes.

Methods: Fifty-two patients with traumatic brachial plexus injury and a paralytic shoulder were included in the study. All patients were evaluated at a mean of nineteen months (range, twelve to twenty-eight months) postoperatively. Twelve patients had a C5-6 injury, twenty-two had a C5-7 injury, five had a C5-8 injury, and thirteen had a C5-T1 injury. Transfer of the lower portion of the trapezius muscle was performed either in isolation or as part of multiple tendon transfers to improve shoulder function. Additional muscles transferred included the middle and upper portions of the trapezius, levator scapulae, upper portion of the serratus anterior, teres major, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis major.

Results: All patients had a stable shoulder postoperatively. Shoulder external rotation improved substantially in all patients from no external rotation (hand-on-belly position) to a mean of 20° (p = 0.001). Patients who underwent additional transfers had marginal improvement of shoulder flexion, from a mean of 10° preoperatively to 60° postoperatively, and of shoulder abduction, from a mean of 10° to 50° (p = 0.01 for each). Mean pain on a visual analog scale improved from 6 points preoperatively to 2 points postoperatively. The mean Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) score improved from 59 to 47 points (p = 0.001). The mean Subjective Shoulder Value improved from 5% to 40% (p = 0.001). Greater age, higher body mass index, and more extensive nerve injury were associated with a poorer DASH score in a multivariate analysis (p = 0.003).

Conclusions: Tendon transfers about the shoulder can improve shoulder function in patients with brachial plexus injury resulting in a paralytic shoulder. Significant improvement of shoulder external rotation but only marginal improvements of shoulder abduction and flexion can be achieved. The outcome can be expected to be better in patients with less severe nerve injury.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

1Departments of Orthopedic Surgery (B.E., A.T.B., R.U.H., and A.Y.S.) and Neurology (R.J.S.), Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street S.W., Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail address for B. Elhassan:

Copyright 2012 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
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