Donor activation focused rehabilitation approach to hand closing nerve transfer surgery in individuals with cervical level spinal cord injury

Lorna C. Kahn, Adam G. Evans, Elspeth J.R. Hill, Ida K. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Study design: Case Series. Objectives: To describe the donor activation focused rehabilitation approach (DAFRA) in the setting of the hand closing nerve transfers in cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) so that therapists may apply it to treatment of individuals undergoing this procedure. Setting: United States of America—Academic Level 1 Trauma Center. Methods: We reviewed the records of individuals with cervical SCI who underwent nerve transfer to restore hand closing and post-surgery DAFRA therapy at our institution. The three post-surgery phases of DAFRA included (1) early phase (0–12 months) education, limb preparation, and donor activation exercises, (2) middle phase (12–24 months) volitional recipient muscle activation and (3) late phase (18 + months) strengthening and incorporation of motion in activities of daily living. Results: Subtle gains in hand closing were first observed at a mean of 8.4 months after hand closing nerve transfer surgery. Remarkable improvements including discontinuation of assistive devices, independence with feeding and urinary function, and measurable grip were observed. Function continued to improve slowly for one to two more years. Conclusions: A deliberate, slow-paced (monthly for >2 years post-surgery) and incremental therapy program—DAFRA—can be used to improve outcomes after nerve transfer to restore hand closing in cervical SCI. Sponsorship: This work was made possible by funding from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Spinal Cord Injury Research on the Translation Spectrum (SCIRTS) Grant: Nerve Transfers to Restore Hand Function in Cervical Spinal Cord Injury (PI: Ida Fox).

Original languageEnglish
Article number47
JournalSpinal Cord Series and Cases
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

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