Shoulder release and tendon transfer is frequently performed to address persistent weakness from neonatal brachial plexus palsy. Although postoperative improvements in motion are well described, associated deficits are poorly documented, and functional assessments are lacking. Loss of ability to reach midline can occur with surgery and may result in impairment. The purpose of this study was to comprehensively assess the gains, losses, functional changes, and patient-reported outcome associated with the authors’ surgical approach.
Consecutive patients undergoing surgery with 2-year follow-up were included (n = 30). Prospectively recorded assessments by therapists were reviewed. Changes were assessed by t test and Wilcoxon rank sum (p < 0.05).
Active external rotation and abduction improved and internal rotation diminished. Aggregate modified Mallet score increased with improvements in all subscales, except that hand to spine was unchanged and hand to belly decreased. Functional assessment using the Brachial Plexus Outcome Measure revealed an increase of aggregate score, with no decline in any subscales. Improvements were in hand to back of head, forward overhead reach, holds plate with palm up, opening large container, and strings bead. Aggregate patient self-report of appearance and function increased (from 18 to 23). Loss of ability to reach midline occurred in three patients (10 percent) who had extended Erb or total palsy and preoperative limitations of internal rotation.
Secondary reconstruction rebalances shoulder motion by increasing external rotation and abduction and reducing internal rotation. In this study, a conservative surgical approach results in overall improvement in task-based abilities and self-reported outcomes and preservation of internal rotation within a functional range.
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