Cervical nerve 5 palsy can occur following surgery for cervical spine pathology. The prognosis of C5 palsy is generally favorable, and most patients recover useful function. However, some patients do not recover useful strength. Nerve transfers are a potential effective treatment of postoperative severe C5 palsy. This study aimed to further delineate the natural history of recovery from postoperative C5 palsy, determine whether lack of recovery at specific time points predicts poor recovery prognosis, and thereby determine a reasonable time point for referral to a complex peripheral nerve specialist.
The authors conducted a retrospective review of 72 patients who underwent surgery for cervical spondylosis and stenosis complicated by C5 palsy. Medical Research Council (MRC) motor strength grades were recorded preoperatively; immediately postoperatively; at discharge; and at 2 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months postoperatively. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify demographic and clinical risk factors associated with recovery of useful strength after severe C5 palsy.
The mean patient age was 62.5 years, and 36.1% of patients were female. Thirty patients (41.7%) experienced severe C5 palsy with less than antigravity strength (MRC grade 2 or less) at discharge. Twenty-one (70%) of these patients recovered useful strength (MRC grade 3 or greater) at 12 months postoperatively, and 9 patients (30%) did not recover useful strength at 12 months. Of those patients with persistent severe C5 palsy at 3 months postoperatively, 50% recovered useful strength at 12 months. Of those patients with persistent severe C5 palsy at 6 months postoperatively, 25% recovered useful strength at 12 months. No patient with MRC grade 0 or 1 strength at 6 months postoperatively recovered useful strength. A history of diabetes was associated with the occurrence of severe C5 palsy. On multivariate analysis, female sex was associated with recovery of useful strength.
Most patients with severe C5 palsy recover useful strength in their C5 myotome within 12 months of onset. However, at 3 months postoperatively, patients with persistent severe C5 palsy had only a 50% chance of recovering useful strength by 12 months. Lack of recovery of useful strength at 3 months postoperatively is a reasonable time point for referral to a complex peripheral nerve center to establish care and to determine candidacy for nerve transfer surgery if severe C5 palsy persists.