Background: In the absence of a randomized, prospective study comparing different surgical approaches for decompression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow, the choice of an approach relies on the individual surgeon's training and experience. The present report describes the results of a prospective, long-term evaluation of the musculofascial lengthening technique in a large series of patients. In these patients, the degree of ulnar nerve compression was staged with use of a numerical grading system that included measures of both motor and sensory function.
Methods: From 1985 through 1991, 121 consecutive patients (161 extremities) in whom the ulnar nerve was entrapped at the elbow were treated with surgical decompression with use of a musculofascial lengthening technique. In addition to the patient history and physical examination, measurements of sensory and motor function were obtained prospectively to permit staging of the severity of the compression by means of a grading scale. The preoperative and postoperative scores on this scale were evaluated. The mean duration of follow-up after surgery was 45.6 months.
Results: On the basis of traditional criteria, 105 limbs (65%) had an excellent result; thirty-seven (23%), a good result; six (4%), a fair result; twelve (7.5%), a failure; and one (0.5%), a recurrence. There was significant improvement in ulnar nerve function in terms of both the sensory (p < 0.001) and motor (p < 0.001) components of the grading scale. Comparisons of clinical subgroups revealed significant improvement in patients with diabetes, those with a Workers' Compensation claim, and those who had a severe degree of compression rather than a mild degree of compression.
Conclusion: Surgical decompression of ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow by means of a musculofascial lengthening technique was associated with an 88% rate of good to excellent results. The results of the present study demonstrate the feasibility of performing a statistical analysis of surgical results by using a numerical grading system to stage the degree of nerve compression. This method may be used to study different surgical techniques for the treatment of this common nerve compression syndrome.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic study, Level IV (case series [no, or historical, control group]). See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.