Background: Although numerous studies have investigated long-term outcomes after surgical treatment of ulnar neuropathy at the elbow with simple decompression, no study has evaluated the trend of postoperative recovery. The authors assessed timing of recovery after simple decompression for ulnar neuropathy at the elbow.
Methods: The five-center Surgery of the Ulnar Nerve Study Group prospectively recruited 58 consecutive subjects with ulnar neuropathy at the elbow and treated them with simple decompression. Patients were evaluated preoperatively and at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year postoperatively. Patient-rated outcomes questionnaires included the Michigan Hand Questionnaire; the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire; and the Carpal Tunnel Questionnaire. Functional tests used were grip strength, key pinch strength, two-point discrimination, and Semmes-Weinstein monofilament testing. Postoperative improvement was assessed at each time point to establish the trend of recovery in reaching a plateau.
Results: Significant patient-reported symptomatic and functional recovery occurred over the first 6 weeks postoperatively as represented by improvements in questionnaire scores. Symptomatic recovery occurred earlier than functional recovery as measured by sensory and strength testing and the work domain of the Michigan Hand Questionnaire. Improvement in patient-reported outcomes continued and reached a plateau at 3 months, whereas measured strength and sensory recovery continued over 12 months.
Conclusion: The greatest clinical improvement after simple decompression for ulnar neuropathy at the elbow, according to questionnaire scores, occurs in the first 6 weeks postoperatively and reaches a plateau by 3 months.
CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic, IV.