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Pain after Surgery for Ulnar Neuropathy at the Elbow: A Continuing Challenge

Antoniadis, Gregor MD; Richter, Hans-Peter MD

Clinical Studies

OBJECTIVE: Fifty-eight percent of patients who had undergone surgery for ulnar neuropathy at the elbow experienced pain after surgery. Severe pain, mostly radiating from the elbow into the hand, is the main indication for subsequent surgery.

METHODS: During a period of 5.5 years, 25 patients underwent 28 operations for ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow and experienced excruciating pain after surgery. Ten patients had undergone a simple decompression and 15 had undergone a nerve transposition. Seven patients underwent surgery at our hospital, whereas 18 patients underwent their primary surgery at other institutions. Various surgical techniques were used during the subsequent surgery, such as external or internal neurolysis, epineurectomy, anterior transposition, and subsequent transfer of the nerve back into the sulcus.

RESULTS: The average follow-up after the last procedure was 17 months (2-55 mo). All five patients with subsequent transfer of the ulnar nerve into the sulcus became pain-free, whereas only two of five patients who had secondary intramuscular transposition for subluxation became free of pain. Results after internal neurolysis were unsatisfactory. Only one of six patients was free of pain after secondary surgery. Results after three or four procedures are approximately similar to the results after the first subsequent surgery.

CONCLUSION: Simple and less extensive techniques for subsequent surgery have relatively good results in this complicated condition. Although our small number of patients does not allow us to draw general conclusions, we think our report makes a contribution because of the few reports in the literature dealing with the results of subsequent surgery for ulnar nerve neuropathy.

Department of Neurosurgery, University of Ulm, Guenzburg, Germany

Received, May 29, 1996. Accepted, April 7, 1997.

Reprint requests: Gregor Antoniadis, M.D., Neurosurgical Department, University of Ulm, Ludwig-Heilmeyer-Str. 2, 89312 Guenzburg, Germany.

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons