The purpose of this study was to describe the anatomy of donor and recipient median nerve motor branches for nerve transfer surgery within the cubital fossa.
Bilateral upper limbs of 10 fresh cadavers were dissected after dyed latex was injected into the axillary artery.
In the cubital fossa, the first branch was always the proximal branch of the pronator teres (PPT), whereas the last one was the anterior interosseous nerve (AIN) and the distal motor branch of the flexor digitorum superficialis (DFDS) on a consistent basis. The PT muscle was also innervated by a distal branch (DPT), which emerged from the anterior side of the median nerve and provided innervation to its deep head. The palmaris longus (PL) motor branch was always the second branch after the PPT, emerging as a single branch together with the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) or the proximal branch of the flexor digitorum superficialis. The FCR motor branch was prone to variations. It originated proximally with the PL branch (35%) or distally with the AIN (35%), and less frequently from the DPT. In 40% of dissections, the FDS was innervated by a single branch (i.e., the DFDS) originating close to the AIN. In 60% of cases, a proximal branch originated together with the PL or FCR. The AIN emerged from the posterior side of the median nerve and had a diameter of 2.3 mm, twice that of other branches. When dissections were performed between the PT and FCR muscles at the FDS arcade, we observed the AIN lying lateral and the DFDS medial to the median nerve. After crossing the FDS arcade, the AIN divided into: 1) a lateral branch to the flexor pollicis longus (FPL), which bifurcated to reach the anterior and posterior surfaces of the FPL; 2) a medial branch, which bifurcated to reach the flexor digitorum profundus (FDP); and 3) a long middle branch to the pronator quadratus. The average numbers of myelinated fibers within each median nerve branch were as follows (values expressed as the mean ± SD): PPT 646 ± 249; DPT 599 ± 150; PL 259 ± 105; FCR 541 ± 199; proximal FDS 435 ± 158; DFDS 376 ± 150; FPL 480 ± 309; first branch to the FDP 397 ± 12; and second branch to the FDP 369 ± 33.
The median nerve's branching pattern in the cubital fossa is predictable. The most important variation involves the FCR motor branch. These anatomical findings aid during nerve transfer surgery to restore function when paralysis results from injury to the radial or median nerves, brachial plexus, or spinal cord.