Outcomes of shoulder abduction after nerve surgery in patients over 50 years following traumatic brachial plexus injury

Joshua A. Gillis, Joseph S. Khouri, Michelle F. Kircher, Robert J. Spinner, Allen T. Bishop, Alexander Y. Shin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: There is controversy regarding the effectiveness of brachial plexus reconstruction in older patients, as outcomes are thought to be poor. The aim of this study is to determine the outcomes of shoulder abduction obtained after nerve reconstruction in patients over the age of 50 years and factors related to success. Methods: Forty patients over the age of 50 years underwent nerve surgery to improve shoulder function after a traumatic brachial plexus injury. Patients were evaluated pre- and postoperatively for shoulder abduction strength and range of motion (ROM); Disability of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) scores; pain; age bracket; gender; body mass index (BMI); delay from injury to operation; concomitant trauma; severity of trauma; and type of reconstruction. Results: The average age was 58.2 years (range 50–77 years) with an average follow-up of 18.8 months. The average modified British Medical Research Council (BMRC) shoulder abduction grade improved significantly from 0.23 to 2.03 (p < 0.005). Fourteen patients achieved functional shoulder abduction of ≥ M3 postoperatively. There was no correlation between age or age range stratification and BMRC grade or those obtaining useful shoulder abduction ≥ M3. Active shoulder abduction improved significantly from 18.25° to 40.64° with no difference on the basis of age or age stratification. There were improved modified BMRC grades with nerve transfers versus nerve grafts. Less patients achieved ≥ M3 function if surgery was delayed > 6 months. The mean DASH score decreased from 45.3 to 40.7 postoperatively, and the average pain score decreased from 3.7 to 3.0. Patients with a higher postoperative BMRC grade for shoulder abduction had improved postoperative DASH scores and VAS for pain (p = 0.011 and 0.005, respectively). Conclusion: Brachial plexus nerve reconstruction for shoulder abduction in patients over the age of 50 years can yield useful BMRC scores and ROM, and age should not be used to exclude nerve reconstruction in these patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-19
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Brachial plexus reconstruction
  • Nerve graft, shoulder abduction
  • Nerve transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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