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J Neurosurg. 2013 Mar;118(3):606-10. doi: 10.3171/2012.10.JNS12637. Epub 2012 Nov 23.

Outcome after transfer of intercostal nerves to the nerve of triceps long head in 25 adult patients with total brachial plexus root avulsion injury.

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  • 1Department of Hand Surgery, HuaShan Hospital, Shanghai, China.



The intercostal nerves (ICNs) have been used to repair the triceps branch in some organizations in the world, but the reported results differ significantly. The effect of this procedure requires evaluation. Thus, this study aimed to evaluate the outcome of ICN transfer to the nerve of the long head of the triceps muscle and to determine the factors affecting the outcome of this procedure.


A retrospective review was conducted in 25 patients with global root avulsion brachial plexus injuries who underwent ICN transfer. The nerves of the long head of the triceps were the recipient nerves in all patients. The ICNs were used in 2 different ways: 2 ICNs were used as donor nerves in 18 patients, and 3 ICNs were used in 7 patients. The mean follow-up period was 5.6 years.


The effective rate of motor recovery in the 25 patients was 56% for the function of the long head of the triceps. There was no significant difference in functional recovery between the patients with 2 or 3 ICN transfers. The outcome of this procedure was not altered if combined with phrenic nerve transfer to the biceps branch. Patients in whom surgery was delayed 6 months or less achieved better results.


The transfer of ICNs to the nerve of long head of the triceps is an effective procedure for treating global brachial plexus avulsion injuries, even if combined with phrenic nerve transfer to the biceps branch. Two ICNs appear to be sufficient for donation. The earlier the surgery is performed, the better are the results achieved.

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