Novel Nerve Transfers for Motor and Sensory Restoration in High Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

Christopher F. Dibble, Jawad M. Khalifeh, Anna VanVoorhis, Jason T. Rich, Wilson Z. Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Tetraplegia caused by cervical spinal cord injury is devastating for patients and represents a significant public health problem in both developed and developing countries. Improved functional outcomes after nerve transfers are increasingly reported in the literature, but thus far, no options exist for injuries above the C5 level. Case Description: We report the cases of 2 patients with C4 spinal cord injury, American Spinal Injury Association A, who underwent successful bilateral spinal accessory nerve transfers, on 1 side to the triceps nerve with long intervening sural graft and on the other side direct transfer to the motor fascicles of the middle trunk. Patients improved from Medical Research Council 0 to 4 on the side of the nerve graft and 0 to 2 or 3 on the side of the direct transfer. Both patients also underwent transfer of the greater auricular nerve to sensory fascicles of the middle trunk, and they experienced sensory recovery in the C6 distribution. Notably, both patients were far removed from the traditional window of nerve transfer surgery at 4 years and almost 11 years out from injury. Conclusions: We describe 2 successful cases of the first and to date only option for motor and sensory reinnervation in high cervical spinal cord injuries. These procedures provide a robust nerve transfer option capable of improving quality of life in tetraplegic patients. There may be a significant undertreated population of patients with cervical spinal cord injury patients in the United States who were previously considered outside the window for benefiting from nerve transfers but who would benefit from these techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-615.e1
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Cervical spinal cord
  • Nerve transfer
  • Neurotization
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Tetraplegia


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