Background: Isolated long thoracic nerve palsy results in scapular winging and destabilization. In this study, we review the surgical management of isolated long thoracic nerve palsy and suggest a surgical technique and treatment algorithm to simplify management. Methods: In total, 19 patients who required surgery for an isolated long thoracic nerve palsy were reviewed retrospectively. Preoperative demographics, electromyography (EMG), and physical examinations were reviewed. Intraoperative nerve stimulation, surgical decision making, and postoperative outcomes were reviewed. Results: In total, 19 patients with an average age of 32 were included in the study. All patients had an isolated long thoracic nerve palsy caused by either an injury (58%), Parsonage-Turner syndrome (32%), or shoulder surgery (10%); 18 patients (95%) underwent preoperative EMG; 10 with evidence of denervation (56%); and 13 patients had motor unit potentials in the serratus anterior (72%). The preoperative EMG did not correlate with intraoperative nerve stimulation in 13 patients (72%) and did correlate in 5 patients (28%); 3 patients had a nerve transfer (3 thoracodorsal to long thoracic at lateral chest, 1 pec to long thoracic at supraclavicular incision). In the 3 patients who had a nerve transfer, there was return of full forward flexion of the shoulder at an average of 2.5 months. Conclusions: A treatment algorithm based on intraoperative nerve stimulation will help guide surgeons in their clinical decision making in patients with isolated long thoracic nerve palsy. Intraoperative nerve stimulation is the gold standard in the management of isolated long thoracic nerve palsy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-694
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • electromyography
  • isolated long thoracic nerve palsy
  • long thoracic nerve
  • long thoracic nerve transfer
  • nerve transfer


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