Brachial plexus root avulsion injuries, which are devastating, usually result from high-speed accidents. Nerve transfer provides hope for successful treatment of this difficult set of injuries. Nevertheless, the controversies regarding indications, techniques, and outcome of the various available surgical procedures continue.
A retrospective analysis was performed in 51 patients (43 male and eight female patients) with brachial plexus injuries who underwent neurotization at the authors' institute between 1997 and 2003. Clinical, electrophysiological, and imaging data were used to identify the type and pattern of involvement of the various elements of the plexus. The mean duration of denervation was 6.4 months (range 2–24 months). Outcome was computed in terms of the overall improvement in power of the target muscle as well as the functional usefulness of such recovery.
There were 50 supraclavicular injuries (25 preganglionic, eight postganglionic, and 17 mixed). One patient had an infraclavicular (posterior spinal cord) injury. Pan–brachial plexus injury with a flail upper limb was the most common pattern. Overall, 55 nerves were neurotized—33 musculocutaneous, 18 axillary, and two each for ulnar and radial nerves (47 single and four double neurotizations—by using intercostal nerve donors in the majority of cases. Adequate follow-up data were available in 36 patients (38 nerves) and these were used for the analysis of outcome. Overall, 58.3% of patients had improvement, and of these 62% achieved useful recovery. This accounted for 36% of overall useful recovery. Multiple logistic regression analysis revealed that regardless of age, sex, mode and pattern of injury, and recipient nerve, the duration of denervation showed a trend toward significance that correlated with overall (but not useful) improvement. The critical duration of denervation was 5.5 months.
Neurotization for brachial plexus root avulsion injuries is a viable option. Early detection and intervention (within 5.5 months) leads to a better overall recovery.