Brachial Plexus Hand Surgery Workup

  • Author: Alan Bienstock, MD; Chief Editor: Joseph A Molnar, MD, PhD, FACS  more...
 
Updated: Nov 11, 2013
 

Imaging Studies

Initial management

  • After brachial plexus injury is initially diagnosed, an immediate neurologic evaluation is performed.
  • Digital imaging and video may be beneficial to document function in children.
  • Radiographic studies in the neonatal period are used to evaluate any concomitant injuries. These studies include chest radiographs to depict an elevated hemidiaphragm secondary to phrenic nerve injury and shoulder and arm radiographs to identify fractures and dislocations.

Additional study

  • CT myelography is the best method to visualize the nerve roots and detect avulsions and ruptures. CT has a sensitivity of 95% and specificity of 98%.
  • MRI may be used to diagnose large pseudomeningoceles, and recent studies have shown its promise in diagnosing nerve root avulsion.
  • MRI is reportedly superior to CT because of its multiplanar capability, which allows clinicians to view the components of the brachial plexus in their own optimal planes (axial plane for roots, oblique coronal for trunks, sagittal plane for cords). However, controversy surrounds the superiority of MRI versus CT myelography. Some suggest that MRI is not as sensitive as CT and that it reduces visualization of rootlets, whereas MRI proponents claim that it has great promise in diagnosing nerve root avulsion.
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Other Tests

Terzis et al have suggested that electromyelography (EMG) is one of the most valid techniques for assessing a brachial plexus lesion.[3]

  • When experts perform the study and analyzed the results, EMG can help in determining the location and extent of the injury and the likelihood of recovery. This ability is exemplified in supraganglionic lesions, in which sensory perception is lost but sensory potentials remain intact.
  • In practice, EMG has several limitations related to difficulties in administering this test in infants, in localizing the lesion along the length of the nerve, and in interpreting the results and correlating them with clinical findings. For these reasons, EMG has largely been abandoned as a first-line study for diagnosis, but remains useful during and after surgery.
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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Alan Bienstock, MD Consulting Staff, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Department of Surgery, Lennox Hill Hospital, St Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital

Alan Bienstock, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

John Y S Kim, MD, FACS Professor, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Department of Surgery, Northwestern University, The Feinberg School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Northwestern Medicine

John Y S Kim, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation for principal investigator.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

David W Chang, MD, FACS Associate Professor, Department of Plastic Surgery, MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas Medical School at Houston

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Joseph A Molnar, MD, PhD, FACS Medical Director, Wound Care Center, Associate Director of Burn Unit, Professor, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Joseph A Molnar, MD, PhD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, North Carolina Medical Society, Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Peripheral Nerve Society, Wound Healing Society, American Burn Association, American College of Surgeons

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from Clinical Cell Culture for co-investigator; Received honoraria from Integra Life Sciences for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Healogics for board membership; Received honoraria from Anika Therapeutics for consulting; Received honoraria from Food Matters for consulting.

Acknowledgements

Milton B Armstrong, MD, FACS Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery, Associate Professor of Clinical Orthopedics, Department of Surgery, University of Miami, Leonard M Miller School of Medicine

Milton B Armstrong, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Hand Surgery, American Cleft Palate/Craniofacial Association, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, American Society for Surgery of the Hand, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and National Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

References
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Table. Surgical Treatments and Secondary Procedures
Condition or DeficitSurgical Treatment and Secondary Procedures
Internal rotation, shoulder adductionMuscle releases: subscapularis, pectoralis major and minor



Muscle transfers to the teres minor: latissimus dorsi, teres major



Neurolysis and decompression of the axillary nerve



Poor elbow extensionNerve exploration and neuroplasty of the radial nerve with or without tendon transfers
Poor extension of the wrist and digitsMuscle transfers
  • Pronator teres to the extensor carpi radialis brevis
  • Flexor carpi radialis to the extensor digitorum communis
  • Palmaris longus to the extensor pollicis longus
Poor extension of the wrist and fingers if flexors are weakMusculocutaneous nerve transfer



Placation or tenodesis of the extensor digitorum communis



Wrist fusion and tendon transfers



Free muscle transfer



Poor elbow flexion, poor supinationExploration and neuroplasty of the radial and musculocutaneous nerves with or without nerve transfers



Oberlin technique



Double nerve transfer



Fascicular transfers



  • Ulnar nerve to the biceps
  • Median nerve to the brachialis
Elbow flexion contractureLengthening of the biceps if serial casting is unsuccessful
Poor flexion of the wrist and fingersNerve exploration and neuroplasty of the median and order nerves



Once muscle transfer



Forearm supination contractureRerouting of the biceps



Rerouting of the supinator



Forearm pronation contractureRerouting of the pronator teres
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