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  • Author or Editor: Eric L. Zager x
  • Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics x
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Zarina S. Ali, Eric L. Zager, Gregory G. Heuer and Sherman C. Stein

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Jennifer Hong, Jared M. Pisapia, Zarina S. Ali, Austin J. Heuer, Erin Alexander, Gregory G. Heuer and Eric L. Zager


Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (nTOS) is an uncommon compression syndrome of the brachial plexus that presents with pain, sensory changes, and motor weakness in the affected limb. The authors reviewed the clinical presentations and outcomes in their series of pediatric patients with surgically treated nTOS over a 6-year period.


Cases of nTOS in patients age 18 years or younger were extracted for analysis from a prospective database of peripheral nerve operations. Baseline patient characteristics, imaging and neurophysiological data, operative findings, and outcomes and complications were assessed.


Twelve patients with 14 cases of nTOS surgically treated between April 2010 and December 2016 were identified. One-third of the patients were male, and 2 male patients underwent staged, bilateral procedures. Disabling pain (both local and radiating) was the most common presenting symptom (100%), followed by numbness (35.7%), then tingling (28.6%). The mean duration of symptoms prior to surgery was 15.8 ± 6.6 months (mean ± SD). Sports-related onset of symptoms was seen in 78.6% of cases. Imaging revealed cervical ribs in 4 cases, prominent C-7 transverse processes in 4 cases, abnormal first thoracic ribs in 2 cases, and absence of bony anomalies in 4 cases. Neurophysiological testing results were normal in 85.7% of cases. Conservative management failed in all patients, with 5 patients reporting minimal improvement in symptoms with physical therapy. With a mean follow-up after surgery of 22 ± 18.3 months (mean ± SD), pain relief was excellent (> 90%) in 8 cases (57.1%), and good (improved > 50%) in 6 cases (42.9%). On univariate analysis, patients who reported excellent pain resolution following surgery at long-term follow-up were found to be significantly younger, and to have suffered a shorter duration of preoperative symptoms than patients who had worse outcomes. Lack of significant trauma or previous surgery to the affected arm was also associated with excellent outcomes. There were 4 minor complications in 3 patients within 30 days of surgery: 1 patient developed a small pneumothorax that resolved spontaneously; 1 patient suffered a transient increase in pain requiring consultation, followed by hiccups for a period of 3 hours that resolved spontaneously; and 1 patient fell at home, with transient increased pain in the surgically treated extremity. There were no new neurological deficits, wound infections, deep vein thromboses, or readmissions.


Pediatric nTOS commonly presents with disabling pain and is more frequently associated with bony anomalies compared with adult nTOS. In carefully selected patients, surgical decompression of the brachial plexus results in excellent pain relief, which is more likely to be seen in younger patients who present for early surgical evaluation.

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Willem Pondaag and Martijn J. A. Malessy

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Zarina S. Ali, Dara Bakar, Yun R. Li, Alex Judd, Hiren Patel, Eric L. Zager, Gregory G. Heuer and Sherman C. Stein


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.