Object. The purpose of this paper was to analyze outcomes in patients at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) who presented with contusion—stretch injuries to the axillary nerve. These injuries resulted from shoulder injury either with or without fracture/dislocation. Although recovery of deltoid function can occur spontaneously, this was not always the case.
Methods. Severe deficits persisting for several months led the patients to undergo surgery. Operative categories included isolated axillary palsy (56 procedures), combined axillary and suprascapular palsies (11 procedures), axillary and radial palsies (14 procedures), and axillary palsy with another deficit, usually infraclavicular plexus loss (20 procedures). Deltoid function was evaluated pre- and postoperatively by applying the LSUHSC grading system. An anterior infraclavicular approach was usually followed during surgery, but in three patients an additional posterior approach was used.
Axillary lesions usually began in the proximal portion of the posterior cord. Although several patients had distraction of the nerve, lesions in continuity were found in more than 90% of cases. Intraoperative nerve action potential (NAP) recordings were performed to determine the need for resection. Most repairs were made using grafts, although in three patients with relatively focal lesions suture was used.
When an NAP was recorded across the lesion and neurolysis was performed, recovery was judged to be a mean Grade 4 according to the LSUHSC in 30 cases. Recovery following suture repairs was a mean Grade 3.8, whereas recovery after 66 graft repairs was a mean Grade 3.7. In cases in which suprascapular palsies were associated with axillary injuries, the former recovered but the latter did not necessarily do so without surgery. If the radial nerve was also injured, recovery of the triceps and brachioradialis muscles and wrist extension was usually obtained, but it was far more difficult to reverse the loss of finger and thumb extension. Although few in number, complications did occur and they are important.
Conclusions. Operative exploration of axillary contusion—stretch lesions is worthwhile in carefully selected cases. If indicated by inspection and intraoperative electrical studies, nerve repair can lead to useful function.