Reconstructive options for brachial plexus lesions continue to expand and improve. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prevalence and quality of restored elbow extension in patients with brachial plexus injuries who underwent transfer of the spinal accessory nerve to the motor branch of the radial nerve to the long head of the triceps muscle with an intervening autologous nerve graft and to identify patient and injury factors that influence functional triceps outcome.
A total of 42 patients were included in this retrospective review. All patients underwent transfer of the spinal accessory nerve to the motor branch of the radial nerve to the long head of the triceps muscle as part of their reconstruction plan after brachial plexus injury. The primary outcome was elbow extension strength according to the modified Medical Research Council muscle grading scale, and signs of triceps muscle recovery were recorded using electromyography.
When evaluating the entire study population (follow-up range 12–45 months, mean 24.3 months), 52.4% of patients achieved meaningful recovery. More specifically, 45.2% reached Grade 0 or 1 recovery, 19.1% obtained Grade 2, and 35.7% improved to Grade 3 or better. The presence of a vascular injury impaired functional outcome. In the subgroup with a minimum follow-up of 20 months (n = 26), meaningful recovery was obtained by 69.5%. In this subgroup, 7.7% had no recovery (Grade 0), 19.2% had recovery to Grade 1, and 23.1% had recovery to Grade 2. Grade 3 or better was reached by 50% of patients, of whom 34.5% obtained Grade 4 elbow extension.
Transfer of the spinal accessory nerve to the radial nerve branch to the long head of the triceps muscle with an interposition nerve graft is an adequate option for restoration of elbow extension, despite the relatively long time required for reinnervation. The presence of vascular injury impairs functional recovery of the triceps muscle, and the use of shorter nerve grafts is recommended when and if possible.