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Tendon Transfer Options About the Shoulder in Patients with Brachial Plexus Injury
Bassem Elhassan, MD1; Allen T. Bishop, MD1; Robert U. Hartzler, MD1; Alexander Y. Shin, MD1; Robert J. Spinner, MD1
1 Departments of Orthopedic Surgery (B.E., A.T.B., R.U.H., and A.Y.S.) and Neurology (R.J.S.), Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street S.W., Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail address for B. Elhassan: elhassan.bassem@mayo.edu
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Investigation performed at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2012 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2012 Aug 01;94(15):1391-1398. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.J.01913
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The purpose of this study was to evaluate the early outcome of shoulder tendon transfer in patients with brachial plexus injury and to determine the factors associated with favorable outcomes.


Fifty-two patients with traumatic brachial plexus injury and a paralytic shoulder were included in the study. All patients were evaluated at a mean of nineteen months (range, twelve to twenty-eight months) postoperatively. Twelve patients had a C5-6 injury, twenty-two had a C5-7 injury, five had a C5-8 injury, and thirteen had a C5-T1 injury. Transfer of the lower portion of the trapezius muscle was performed either in isolation or as part of multiple tendon transfers to improve shoulder function. Additional muscles transferred included the middle and upper portions of the trapezius, levator scapulae, upper portion of the serratus anterior, teres major, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis major.


All patients had a stable shoulder postoperatively. Shoulder external rotation improved substantially in all patients from no external rotation (hand-on-belly position) to a mean of 20° (p = 0.001). Patients who underwent additional transfers had marginal improvement of shoulder flexion, from a mean of 10° preoperatively to 60° postoperatively, and of shoulder abduction, from a mean of 10° to 50° (p = 0.01 for each). Mean pain on a visual analog scale improved from 6 points preoperatively to 2 points postoperatively. The mean Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) score improved from 59 to 47 points (p = 0.001). The mean Subjective Shoulder Value improved from 5% to 40% (p = 0.001). Greater age, higher body mass index, and more extensive nerve injury were associated with a poorer DASH score in a multivariate analysis (p = 0.003).


Tendon transfers about the shoulder can improve shoulder function in patients with brachial plexus injury resulting in a paralytic shoulder. Significant improvement of shoulder external rotation but only marginal improvements of shoulder abduction and flexion can be achieved. The outcome can be expected to be better in patients with less severe nerve injury.

Level of Evidence: 

Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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