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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

OBJECT

Results of radial nerve grafting are largely unknown for lesions of the radial nerve that occur proximal to the humerus, including those within the posterior cord.

METHODS

The authors describe 13 patients with proximal radial nerve injuries who were surgically treated and then followed for at least 24 months. The patients’ average age was 26 years and the average time between accident and surgery was 6 months. Sural nerve graft length averaged 12 cm. Recovery was scored according to the British Medical Research Council (BMRC) scale, which ranges from M0 to M5 (normal muscle strength).

RESULTS

After grafting, all 7 patients with an elbow extension palsy recovered elbow extension, scoring M4. Six of the 13 recovered M4 wrist extension, 6 had M3, and 1 had M2. Thumb and finger extension was scored M4 in 3 patients, M3 in 2, M2 in 2, and M0 in 6.

CONCLUSIONS

The authors consider levels of strength of M4 for elbow and wrist extension and M3 for thumb and finger extension to be good results. Based on these criteria, overall good results were obtained in only 5 of the 13 patients. In proximal radial nerve lesions, the authors now advocate combining nerve grafts with nerve or tendon transfers to reconstruct wrist, thumb, and finger extension.

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Brachial plexus repair by peripheral nerve grafts directly into the spinal cord in rats

Behavioral and anatomical evidence of functional recovery

Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Jean Claude Mira

✓ Over the years, peripheral nerve grafts, a favorable environment for the support of axonal elongation, have attracted interest as a possible means of promoting spinal cord repair. In the experiments described here, rats underwent an avulsion injury of the brachial plexus, and the musculocutaneous nerve was repaired by direct insertion of peripheral nerve grafts into the spinal cord. After varying postoperative periods, the rats were submitted to a series of behavioral tests to evaluate forelimb and hindlimb function. They also underwent retrograde double-labeling studies. Nerve grafts were harvested and processed for electronic microscopy. The biceps muscle was removed and weighed and its histology studied.

After surgery, central axons effectively regenerated about 65 mm along the peripheral nerve grafts, restoring normal active elbow flexion. Forelimb movements were well coordinated in both voluntary and automatic activities. Clinical investigations showed that there were no side effects in the ipsilateral forepaw, contralateral forelimb, or either hindlimb. Regenerating axons stemmed from original motoneurons, foreign motoneurons, and even antagonist motoneurons, but this did not impair function. Ganglionic neurons from adjacent roots also sent processes to the peripheral nerve grafts.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

OBJECT

The objective of this study was to report the results of elbow, thumb, and finger extension reconstruction via nerve transfer in midcervical spinal cord injuries.

METHODS

Thirteen upper limbs from 7 patients with tetraplegia, with an average age of 26 years, were operated on an average of 7 months after a spinal cord injury. The posterior division of the axillary nerve was used to reinnervate the triceps long and upper medial head motor branches in 9 upper limbs. Both the posterior division and the branch to the middle deltoid were used in 2 upper limbs, and the anterior division of the axillary nerve in the final 2 limbs. For thumb and finger extension reconstruction, the nerve to the supinator was transferred to the posterior interosseous nerve.

RESULTS

In 22 of the 27 recipient nerves, a peripheral type of palsy with muscle denervation was identified. At an average of 19 months follow-up, elbow strength scored M4 in 11 upper limbs and M3 in 2, according to the British Medical Research Council scale. Thumb extension scored M4 in 8 upper limbs and scored M3 in 4. Finger extension scored M4 in 12 hands. No donor-site deficits were reported or observed.

CONCLUSIONS

Nerve transfers are effective at restoring elbow, thumb, and finger extension in patients with a midcervical spinal cord injury, which occurs in the majority of patients with a peripheral type of palsy with muscle denervation in their upper limbs. Efforts should be made to perform operations in these patients within 12 months of injury.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

Object

The purpose of this study was to investigate the usefulness of preoperative evaluation based on clinical testing and computed tomography (CT) myelography in differentiating root rupture (that is, graftable root) from root avulsion in total brachial plexus palsy.

Methods

Thirty-two patients with total brachial plexus palsy were clinically tested for the presence of phrenic nerve palsy, supraclavicular Tinel sign, shoulder protraction, Bernard–Horner syndrome, and hand pain. The patients underwent CT myelography and then underwent surgery. The combination of a positive Tinel sign and a positive shoulder protraction test accurately predicted the presence of a graftable root in 93.7% of the cases. A 96.8% rate of accuracy was attained if the results of the CT myelography were considered together with the clinical signs. The presence of Bernard–Horner syndrome and hand pain accurately indicated avulsion of the lower roots in 93.7% of the patients. Computed tomography myelography accurately predicted the condition of the lower roots in 100% of the cases. Total avulsion injury was observed in five cases (16%). The lower roots were avulsed in 94% of the cases. The C-5 and C-6 roots were grafted 40 times, and a suitable root stump for grafting lay in a retroscalenic position in 18 (45%) of the 40 cases.

Conclusions

Preoperative assessment based on clinical examination and CT myelography allowed correct surgical planning in more than 90% of the cases.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

Object

Classically, C5–7 root injuries of the brachial plexus have been associated with palsies of shoulder abduction/external rotation, elbow flexion/extension, and wrist, thumb, and finger extension. However, current myotome maps generally indicate that C-8 participates in the innervation of thumb and finger extensors. Therefore, the authors have hypothesized that, for palsies of the thumb and finger extensors, the injury should affect the C-5 through C-8 roots.

Methods

The authors tested their hypothesis in 30 patients with upper-type palsies of the brachial plexus. They traced a correlation between clinical findings and root injury, as documented by CT myelography, direct visualization during surgery, and electrophysiological studies.

Results

In C5–8 root injuries, shoulder abduction and external rotation were paralyzed, and in all patients, wrist extensors were paralyzed. However, in 22 of the 30 patients, wrist extension was possible, because of contraction of the extensor digitorum communis and extensor pollicis longus. Wrist flexion and pronation also were preserved. The T-1 root contributed significantly to innervation of the thumb and finger flexors, ensuring 34% grasping and 40% pinch strength relative to the normal side. Hand sensation was largely preserved.

Conclusions

Based on the authors' observations, they suspect that the clinical scenario previously attributed to a C5–7 root injury is, in fact, a C5–8 root injury. The authors propose referring to this partial palsy of the brachial plexus as a “T-1 hand.”

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flavio Ghizoni

Object

In C7–T1 palsies of the brachial plexus, shoulder and elbow function are preserved, but finger motion is absent. Finger flexion has been reconstructed by tendon or nerve transfers. Finger extension has been restored ineffectively by attaching the extensor tendons to the distal aspect of the dorsal radius (termed tenodesis) or by tendon transfers. In these palsies, supinator muscle function is preserved, because innervation stems from the C-6 root. The feasibility of transferring supinator branches to the posterior interosseous nerve has been documented in a previous anatomical study. In this paper, the authors report the clinical results of supinator motor nerve transfer to the posterior interosseous nerve in 4 patients with a C7–T1 root lesion.

Methods

Four adult patients with C7–T1 root lesions underwent surgery between 5 and 7 months postinjury. The patients had preserved motion of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, but they had complete palsy of finger motion. They underwent finger flexion reconstruction via transfer of the brachialis muscle, and finger and thumb extension were restored by transferring the supinator motor branches to the posterior interosseous nerve. This nerve transfer was performed through an incision over the proximal third of the radius. Dissection was carried out between the extensor carpi radialis brevis and the extensor digitorum communis. The patients were followed up as per regular protocol and underwent a final evaluation 12 months after surgery. To document the extent of recovery, the authors assessed the degree of active metacarpophalangeal joint extension of the long fingers. The thumb span was evaluated by measuring the distance between the thumb pulp and the lateral aspect of the index finger.

Results

Surgery to transfer the supinator motor branches to the posterior interosseous nerve was straightforward. Twelve months after surgery, all patients were capable of opening their hand and could fully extend their metacarpophalangeal joints. The distance of thumb abduction improved from 0 to 5 cm from the lateral aspect of the index finger.

Conclusions

Transferring supinator motor nerves directly to the posterior interosseous nerve is effective in at least partially restoring thumb and finger extension in patients with lower-type injuries of the brachial plexus.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

OBJECTIVE

Transfer of the spinal accessory nerve to the suprascapular nerve is a common procedure, performed to reestablish shoulder motion in patients with total brachial plexus palsy. However, the results of this procedure remain largely unknown.

METHODS

Over an 11-year period (2002–2012), 257 patients with total brachial plexus palsy were operated upon in the authors' department by a single surgeon and had the spinal accessory nerve transferred to the suprascapular nerve. Among these, 110 had adequate follow-up and were included in this study. Their average age was 26 years (SD 8.4 years), and the mean interval between their injury and surgery was 5.2 months (SD 2.4 months). Prior to 2005, the suprascapular and spinal accessory nerves were dissected through a classic supraclavicular L-shape incision (n = 29). Afterward (n = 81), the spinal accessory and suprascapular nerves were dissected via an oblique incision, extending from the point at which the plexus crossed the clavicle to the anterior border of the trapezius muscle. In 17 of these patients, because of clavicle fractures or dislocation, scapular fractures or retroclavicular scarring, the incision was extended by detaching the trapezius from the clavicle to expose the suprascapular nerve at the suprascapular fossa. In all patients, the brachial plexus was explored and elbow flexion reconstructed by root grafting (n = 95), root grafting and phrenic nerve transfer (n = 6), phrenic nerve transfer (n = 1), or third, fourth, and fifth intercostal nerve transfer. Postoperatively, patients were followed for an average of 40 months (SD 13.7 months).

RESULTS

Failed recovery, meaning less than 30° abduction, was observed in 10 (9%) of the 110 patients. The failure rate was 25% between 2002 and 2004, but dropped to 5% after the staged/extended approach was introduced. The mean overall range of abduction recovery was 58.5° (SD 26°). Comparing before and after distal suprascapular nerve exploration (2005–2012), the range of abduction recovery was 45° (SD 25.1°) versus 62° (SD 25.3°), respectively (p = 0.002). In patients who recovered at least 30° of abduction, recovery of elbow flexion to at least an M3 level of strength increased the range of abduction by an average of 13° (p = 0.01). Before the extended approach, 2 (7%) of 29 patients recovered active external rotation of 20° and 120°. With the staged/extended approach, 32 (40%) of 81 recovered some degree of active external rotation. In these patients, the average range of motion measured from the thorax was 87° (SD 40.6°).

CONCLUSIONS

In total palsies of the brachial plexus, using the spinal accessory nerve for transfer to the suprascapular nerve is reliable and provides some recovery of abduction for a large majority of patients. In a few patients, a more extensive approach to access the suprascapular nerve, including, if necessary, dissection in the suprascapular fossa, may enhance outcomes.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli and Marcos Flávio Ghizoni

Object. The goal of this study was to evaluate outcomes in patients with brachial plexus avulsion injuries who underwent contralateral motor rootlet and ipsilateral nerve transfers to reconstruct shoulder abduction/external rotation and elbow flexion.

Methods. Within 6 months after the injury, 24 patients with a mean age of 21 years underwent surgery in which the contralateral C-7 motor rootlet was transferred to the suprascapular nerve by using sural nerve grafts. The biceps motor branch or the musculocutaneous nerve was repaired either by an ulnar nerve fascicular transfer or by transfer of the 11th cranial nerve or the phrenic nerve. The mean recovery in abduction was 90° and 92° in external rotation. In cases of total palsy, only two patients recovered external rotation and in those cases mean external rotation was 70°. Elbow flexion was achieved in all cases. In cases of ulnar nerve transfer, the muscle scores were M5 in one patient, M4 in six patients, and M3+ in five patients. Elbow flexion repair involving the use of the 11th cranial nerve resulted in a score of M3+ in five patients and M4 in two patients. After surgery involving the phrenic nerve, two patients received a score of M3+ and two a score of M4. Results were clearly better in patients with partial lesions and in those who were shorter than 170 cm (p < 0.01). The length of the graft used in motor rootlet transfers affected only the recovery of external rotation. There was no permanent injury at the donor sites.

Conclusions. Motor rootlet transfer represents a reliable and potent neurotizer that allows the reconstruction of abduction and external rotation in partial injuries.

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Jayme Augusto Bertelli, Marcos Flavio Ghizoni and Adalberto Michels

Object. This study was conducted to evaluate the effects of dorsal rhizotomy on upper-limb spasticity, functional improvement, coordination, and hand sensibility.

Methods. Fifteen spastic upper limbs in 13 patients were selected and prospectively studied. Brachial plexus dorsal rhizotomy was performed in which two, three, or four dorsal roots were completely sectioned. Patients were followed up for at least 12 months after surgery; the mean follow-up period was 15.6 months and the maximum period was 30 months. A remarkable relief of spasticity was observed in all cases. Recurrence was observed in only one patient and was caused by insufficient dorsal root section. Functional improvement was observed in all cases, and functional improvement in the hand was found to be related to the presence of active finger extension in the preoperative period. Even when extended dorsal root section was performed, no hand anesthesia, either total or partial, was observed. No patient lost movement ability in the postoperative period, and no ataxic limbs were observed.

Conclusions. Brachial plexus dorsal rhizotomy is very effective as a treatment for upper-limb spasticity and results in functional improvement without loss of sensation in the hand.