Increasing Awareness of Complications of Nerve Injury Following Shoulder Surgery: Preventing Delays in Referral and Treatment

Brendan M. Patterson, Evelyn R. Reed, Elspeth Hill, Joseph A. Buckwalter V, Maria F. Bozoghlian, Susan E. Mackinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Nerve injuries remain a challenging complication after shoulder surgery. While most resolve spontaneously, some require surgical intervention. This study describes the characteristics of patients sustaining nerve injuries following shoulder surgery, evaluates referral patterns to nerve surgeons, and characterizes nerve surgeries performed and their outcomes. Increased awareness of these injuries allows patients and providers to be better informed regarding the appropriate management when these complications occur. Methods: A retrospective review of referrals with nerve injuries following shoulder surgery between 2007 and 2015 was performed. The final analysis included 65 patients. Data reviewed included demographics, procedure and anesthesia type, and diagnosis of nerve injury. Time to referral to nerve surgeon and proportional changes in the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) scores were determined. Outcomes were categorized as failed, partially successful, and successful based on final follow-up. Results: Patients were referred following arthroscopic shoulder surgeries (35.4%), shoulder arthroplasties (24.6%), open shoulder procedures (21.5%), and combined open and arthroscopic procedures (18.5%). The mean time to referral was 7.6 months. Nerve injuries involved brachial plexus (33) and individual and multiple peripheral nerve branches (23 and 7, respectively). Twenty-five (38%) nerve injuries demonstrated spontaneous recovery. Thirty-five patients underwent surgical intervention, of which 27 were successful, 3 were partially successful, and 3 failed. Conclusions: This is the largest series of patients with iatrogenic nerve injury following shoulder surgeries to date. Our data demonstrate a lack of timely referral to nerve surgeons, especially after arthroscopy. There continues to be a variable injury pattern even among similar surgeries. Despite this, timely surgical intervention, when indicated, can lead to favorable outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-360
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2024


  • Latarjet
  • diagnosis
  • nerve
  • nerve injury
  • nerve transfer
  • shoulder arthroplasty
  • shoulder surgery


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