The decision-making in neonatal brachial plexus palsy (NBPP) treatment continues to have many areas in need of clarification. Graft repair was the gold standard until the introduction of nerve transfer strategies. Currently, there is conflicting evidence regarding outcomes in patients with nerve grafts versus nerve transfers in relation to shoulder function. The objective of this study was to further define the outcomes for reconstruction strategies in NBPP with a specific focus on the shoulder.
A cohort of patients with NBPP and surgical repairs from a single center were reviewed. Demographic and standard clinical data, including imaging and electrodiagnostics, were gathered from a clinical database. Clinical data from physical therapy evaluations, including active and passive range of motion, were examined. Statistical analysis was performed on the available data.
Forty-five patients met the inclusion criteria for this study, 19 with graft repair and 26 with nerve transfers. There were no significant differences in demographics between the two groups. Understandably, there were no patients in the nerve grafting group with preganglionic lesions, resulting in a difference in lesion type between the cohorts. There were no differences in preoperative shoulder function between the cohorts. Both groups reached statistically significant improvements in shoulder flexion and shoulder abduction. The nerve transfer group experienced a significant improvement in shoulder external rotation, from −78° to −28° (p = 0.0001), whereas a significant difference was not reached in the graft group. When compared between groups, there appeared to be a trend favoring nerve transfer in shoulder external rotation, with the graft patients improving by 17° and the transfer patients improving by 49° (p = 0.07).
In NBPP, patients with shoulder weakness experience statistically significant improvements in shoulder flexion and abduction after graft repair or nerve transfer, and patients with nerve transfers additionally experience significant improvement in external rotation. With regard to shoulder external rotation, there appear to be some data supporting the use of nerve transfers.