OBJECTIVE: The management of obstetrical brachial plexus injury, often called birth palsy, remains one of the most controversial topics in pediatric neurosurgery. Most birth palsies have acceptable spontaneous recoveries, whereas only a minority require surgical intervention. A selective approach for surgery was used in this Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) series, for which the operative rate was 9%. At LSUHSC, the patient with obstetrical brachial plexus injury is followed for 6 to 9 months before surgery, which is performed if there is no satisfactory biceps and/or shoulder function.
METHODS: This is a retrospective analysis of 169 patients with 171 palsies referred to LSUHSC for possible surgery. There were 76 patients with 77 birth palsies managed operatively and nonoperatively at LSUHSC between 1975 and 1991. An additional 93 patients with 94 palsies who were managed between 1992 and 2003 were included in this analysis. The results of initial and follow-up examinations using Eng's criteria for impairment ratings (IRs) were available for 151 of 171 (88%) nonoperative and operative obstetrical brachial plexus injuries managed between 1975 and 2001.
RESULTS: Fifty-two percent of the nonoperative patients evaluated at an initial visit had an IR of 4 or 5, which represents very poor function by comparison to IR of 1 in the Eng scale, which represents almost no abnormality. The percentage of patients in this category (4–5) improved to 30% after follow-up visits. For the 16 operative cases, the initial and follow-up percentages of patients with IRs of 4 or 5 were 67% and 22%, respectively. Ultimately, 47% of the nonoperative patients achieved a grade 2 IR after follow-up compared with 17% of the operative patients.
CONCLUSION: Using this selective approach at LSUHSC, in which the operative rate was 9%, acceptable outcomes were obtained both in patients not having surgery and also in those having surgical intervention.