Relocating the C5 nerve stump in C5 nerve grafting to prevent iatrogenic phrenic nerve injury

Katharine M. Hinchcliff, Allen T. Bishop, Alexander Y. Shin, Robert J. Spinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Exploration and grafting of the brachial plexus remains the gold standard for post-ganglionic brachial plexus injuries that present within an acceptable time frame from injury. The most common nerves available for grafting include C5 and C6. During the surgical exposure of C5 and C6, the phrenic nerve is anatomically anterior to the cervical spinal nerves, making it vulnerable to injury while performing the dissection and nerve stump to graft coaptation. We describe a novel technique that protects the phrenic nerve from injury during supraclavicular brachial plexus exposure and grafting of C5 or upper trunk ruptures or neuromas in-continuity. Methods: A 4-step technique is illustrated: (1) The normal anatomic relationships of the phrenic nerve anterior to C5 is displayed in the face of the traumatic scarring. (2) The C5 spinal nerve stump is then transposed from its anatomic position posterior to the phrenic nerve to an anterior position. (3) The C5 stump is then moved medially for retrograde neurolysis of C5 from its phrenic nerve contribution. The graft coaptation to C5 is performed in this medial position, which minimizes retraction of the phrenic nerve. (4) The normal anatomic relationship of the phrenic nerve and the C5 nerve graft is restored. Results: We have been routinely relocating the C5 spinal nerve stump around the phrenic nerve for the past 10 years. We have experienced no adverse respiratory events. Conclusion: This technique facilitates surgical exposure and prevents iatrogenic injury on the phrenic nerve during nerve reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-834
Number of pages6
JournalActa Neurochirurgica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Brachial plexus
  • Brachial plexus exploration
  • Brachial plexus nerve graft
  • Nerve graft
  • Phrenic nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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