Trends in Brachial Plexus Surgery: Characterizing Contemporary Practices for Exploration of Supraclavicular Plexus

J. Ryan Hill, Steven T. Lanier, Liz Rolf, Aimee S. James, David M. Brogan, Christopher Dy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: There is variability in treatment strategies for patients with brachial plexus injury (BPI). We used qualitative research methods to better understand surgeons’ rationale for treatment approaches. We hypothesized that distal nerve transfers would be preferred over exploration and nerve grafting of the brachial plexus. Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with BPI surgeons to discuss 3 case vignettes: pan-plexus injury, upper trunk injury, and lower trunk injury. The interview guide included questions regarding overall treatment strategy, indications and utility of brachial plexus exploration, and the role of nerve grafting and/or nerve transfers. Interview transcripts were coded by 2 researchers. We performed inductive thematic analysis to collate these codes into themes, focusing on the role of brachial plexus exploration in the treatment of BPI. Results: Most surgeons routinely explore the supraclavicular brachial plexus in situations of pan-plexus and upper trunk injuries. Reasons to explore included the importance of obtaining a definitive root level diagnosis, perceived availability of donor nerve roots, timing of anticipated recovery, plans for distal reconstruction, and the potential for neurolysis. Very few explore lower trunk injuries, citing concern with technical difficulty and unfavorable risk-benefit profile. Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that supraclavicular exploration remains a foundational component of surgical management of BPI, despite increasing utilization of distal nerve transfers. Availability of abundant donor axons and establishing an accurate diagnosis were cited as primary reasons in support of exploration. This analysis of surgeon interviews characterizes contemporary practices regarding the role of brachial plexus exploration in the treatment of BPI.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHand
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • anatomy
  • basic science
  • brachial plexus
  • diagnosis
  • hand
  • microsurgery
  • nerve
  • nerve injury
  • nerve reconstruction
  • research and health outcomes
  • shoulder
  • specialty
  • surgery
  • treatment

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