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The Prevalence, Rate of Progression, and Treatment of Elbow Flexion Contracture in Children with Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy
Lindsey C. Sheffler, MD1; Lisa Lattanza, MD2; Yolanda Hagar, PhD3; Anita Bagley, PhD, MPH2; Michelle A. James, MD2
1 School of Medicine, University of California Davis School of Medicine, 4610 X Street, Sacramento, CA 95817
2 Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California, 2425 Stockton Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95817. E-mail address for M.A. James: mjames@shrinenet.org
3 Department of Biostatistics, University of California Davis, Medical Sciences 1-C, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616
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Investigation performed at Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California, Sacramento, California



Disclosure: One or more 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 an aspect of this work. In addition, 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 Mar 07;94(5):403-409. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.J.00750
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Abstract

Background: 

Elbow flexion contracture is a well-known complication of brachial plexus birth palsy that adversely affects upper-extremity function. The prevalence, risk factors, and rate of progression of elbow flexion contracture associated with brachial plexus birth palsy have not been established, and the effectiveness of nonoperative treatment involving nighttime splinting or serial casting has not been well studied.

Methods: 

The medical records of 319 patients with brachial plexus birth palsy who had been seen at our institution between 1992 and 2009 were retrospectively reviewed to identify patients with an elbow flexion contracture (≥10°). The chi-square test for trend and the Kaplan-Meier estimator were used to evaluate risk factors for contracture, including age, sex, and the extent of brachial plexus involvement. Longitudinal models were used to estimate the rate of contracture progression and the effectiveness of nonoperative treatment.

Results: 

An elbow flexion contracture was present in 48% (152) of the patients with brachial plexus birth palsy. The median age of onset was 5.1 years (range, 0.25 to 14.8 years). The contracture was ≥30° in 36% (fifty-four) of these 152 patients and was accompanied by a documented radial head dislocation in 6% (nine). The prevalence of contracture increased with increasing age (p < 0.001) but was not significantly associated with sex or with the extent of brachial plexus involvement. The magnitude of the contracture increased by 4.4% per year before treatment (p < 0.01). The magnitude of the contracture decreased by 31% when casting was performed (p < 0.01) but thereafter increased again at the same rate of 4.4% per year. The magnitude of the contracture did not improve when splinting was performed but the rate of increase thereafter decreased to <0.1% per year (p = 0.04).

Conclusions: 

The prevalence of elbow flexion contracture in children with brachial plexus birth palsy may be greater than clinicians perceive. The prevalence increased with patient age but was not significantly affected by sex or by the extent of brachial plexus involvement. Serial casting may initially improve severe contractures, whereas nighttime splinting may prevent further progression of milder contractures.

Level of Evidence: 

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

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    Accreditation Statement
    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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