The authors report the functional outcomes after functioning free muscle transfer (FFMT) for restoration of the upper-extremity movement after brachial plexus injury (BPI).
The authors conducted a retrospective review of 36 gracilis FFMT procedures performed in 27 patients with BPI between 1990 and 2000. Eighteen patients underwent a single gracilis FFMT procedure for restoration of either elbow flexion (17 cases) or finger flexion (one case). Nine patients underwent a double free muscle transfer for simultaneous restoration of elbow flexion and wrist extension (first muscle) and finger flexion (second muscle), combined with direct triceps neurotization. The results obtained in 29 cases of FFMT in which the follow-up period was 1 year are reported.
Neurotization of the donor muscle was performed using the musculocutaneous nerve (one case), spinal accessory nerve (12 cases), or multiple intercostal motor nerves (16 cases). Two second-stage muscle flaps failed secondary to vascular insufficiency. Mean electromyography-measured reinnervation time was 5 months. At a minimum follow-up period of 1 year, five muscles achieved less than or equal to Grade M2, eight Grade M3, four Grade M4, and 12 Grade M5. Transfer for combined elbow flexion and wrist extension compared with elbow flexion alone lowered the overall results for elbow flexion strength. Seventy-nine percent of the FFMTs for elbow flexion alone (single transfer) and 63% of similarly innervated muscles transferred for combined motion achieved at least Grade M4 elbow flexion strength.
Functioning free muscle transfer is a viable reconstructive option for restoration of upper-extremity function in the setting of severe BPI. It is possible to achieve good to excellent outcomes in terms of muscle grades with the simultaneous reconstruction of two functions by one FFMT, making restoration of basic hand function possible. More reliable results are obtained when a single FFMT is performed for a single function.