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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2012 Feb 15;94(4):289-97. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.J.01348.

Biceps brachii long head overactivity associated with elbow flexion contracture in brachial plexus birth palsy.

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  • 1Shriners Hospital for Children, Northern California, Sacramento, California, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The etiology of elbow flexion contracture in children with brachial plexus birth palsy remains unclear. We hypothesized that the long head of the biceps brachii muscle assists with shoulder stabilization in children with brachial plexus birth palsy and that overactivity of the long head during elbow and shoulder activity is associated with an elbow flexion contracture.

METHODS:

Twenty-one patients with brachial plexus birth palsy-associated elbow flexion contracture underwent testing with surface electromyography. Twelve patients underwent repeat testing with fine-wire electromyography. Surface electrodes were placed on the muscle belly, and fine-wire electrodes were inserted bilaterally into the long and short heads of the biceps brachii. Patients were asked to perform four upper extremity tasks: elbow flexion-extension, hand to head, high reach, and overhead ball throw. The mean duration of muscle activity in the affected limb was compared with that in the contralateral, unaffected limb, which was used as a control. Three-dimensional motion analysis, surface dynamometry, and validated function measures were used to evaluate upper extremity kinematics, elbow flexor-extensor muscle imbalance, and function.

RESULTS:

The mean activity duration of the long head of the biceps brachii muscle was significantly higher in the affected limb as compared with the contralateral, unaffected limb during hand-to-head tasks (p = 0.02) and high-reach tasks (p = 0.03). No significant differences in mean activity duration were observed for the short head of the biceps brachii muscle between the affected and unaffected limbs. Isometric strength of elbow flexion was not significantly higher than that of elbow extension in the affected limb (p = 0.11).

CONCLUSIONS:

Overactivity of the long head of the biceps brachii muscle is associated with and may contribute to the development of elbow flexion contracture in children with brachial plexus birth palsy. Elbow flexion contracture may not be associated with an elbow flexor-extensor muscle imbalance, as previously hypothesized. The negative impact of elbow flexion contracture on upper extremity function warrants future research in the development of preventive and therapeutic techniques to address elbow flexion contractures in children with brachial plexus birth palsy.

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