Neonatal brachial plexus palsy (NBPP) represents a significant health problem with potentially devastating consequences. The most common form of NBPP involves the upper trunk roots. Currently, primary surgical repair is performed if clinical improvement is lacking. There has been increasing interest in “early” surgical repair of NBPPs, occurring within 3–6 months of life. However, early treatment recommendations ignore spontaneous recovery in cases of Erb's palsy. This study was undertaken to evaluate the optimal timing of surgical repair in this group with respect to quality of life.
The authors formulated a decision analytical model to compare 4 treatment strategies (no repair or repair at 3, 6, or 12 months of life) for infants with persistent NBPPs. The model derives data from a critical review of published studies and projects health-related quality of life and quality-adjusted life years over a lifetime.
When evaluating the quality of life of infants with NBPP, improved outcomes are seen with delayed surgical repair at 12 months, compared with no repair or repair at early and intermediate time points, at 3 and 6 months, respectively. ANOVA showed that the differences among the 4 groups are highly significant (F = 8369; p < 0.0001). Pairwise post hoc comparisons revealed that there are highly significant differences between each pair of strategies (p < 0.0001). Meta-regression showed no evidence of improved outcomes with more recent treatment dates, compared with older ones, for either nonsurgical or for surgical treatment (p = 0.767 and p = 0.865, respectively).
These data support a delayed approach of primary surgical reconstruction to optimize quality of life. Early surgery for NBPPs may be an overly aggressive strategy for infants who would otherwise demonstrate spontaneous recovery of function by 12 months. A randomized, controlled trial would be necessary to fully elucidate the natural history of NBPP and determine the optimal time point for surgical intervention.