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Brachial Plexus Injury: A Survey of 100 Consecutive Cases from a Single Service

Dubuisson, Annie S. M.D.; Kline, David G. M.D.

Clinical Studies

OBJECTIVE : We analyzed the epidemiology, preoperative management, operative findings, operative treatment, and postoperative results in a group of 99 patients who sustained 100 injuries to the brachial plexus.

METHODS : The charts of 100 consecutive surgical patients with brachial plexus injuries were reviewed.

RESULTS : The patient group comprised 80 males and 19 females ranging from 5 to 70 years of age. One male patient had bilateral brachial plexus palsy. Causes of injury were largely sudden displacement of head, neck, and shoulder and included 27 motorcycle accidents. There were 23 open wounds, including 8 gunshot wounds, 6 other penetrating wounds, and 9 wounds caused by operative or iatrogenic trauma. Loss was exhibited at C5–C6 in 19 patients, at C5–C7 in 15 patients, and at C5–T1 in 39 patients, and 8 patients had another spinal root pattern of injury. Nineteen patients had injury at the cord or the cord to nerve level. Associated major trauma was present in 59 patients. Emergency surgery for vessel or nerve repair was necessary in 18 patients. Myelography (n = 57) or magnetic resonance imaging (n = 7) revealed at least one root abnormality in 52 patients. The median interval from trauma to operation was 7 months. Operative exposures used included anterior supraclavicular, infraclavicular, combined supra- and infraclavicular, or a posterior approach in 5, 14, 77, and 4 patients, respectively. The surgical procedures performed included neurolysis alone in 12 patients and nerve grafting, end-to-end anastomosis, and/or neurotization in 81, 5, and 47 patients, respectively. Postoperative follow-up of at least 36 months was conducted in 78% of the patients. Grade 3 recovery according to Louisiana State University Medical Center criteria means contraction of proximal muscles against some resistance and of distal muscles against at least gravity. Among the 18 patients with open wounds, 14 (78%) recovered to a Grade 3 or better level, as did 35 (58%) of 60 patients with stretch injuries. In all cases of C5–C6 stretch injuries repaired by nerve grafting (n = 10), the patients recovered useful arm function.

CONCLUSION : Brachial plexus injury represents a severe, difficult-to-handle traumatic event. The incidence of such injuries and the indications for surgery have increased during recent years. Graft repair and neurotization procedures play an important role in the treatment of patients with such injuries.

Department of Neurosurgery, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Liège, Domaine Universitaire du Sart Tilman, Liège, Belgium

Department of Neurosurgery, Louisiana State University Medical Center, and Charity, University, and Ochsner Hospitals, New Orleans, Louisiana

Reprint requests:

Annie S. Dubuisson, Department of Neurosurgery, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Liège, Domaine Universitaire du Sart Tilman, Bâtiment B 35, B-4000 Liège, Belgium.


Received, December 10, 2001.

Accepted, January 30, 2002.

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons