BACKGROUND: There is controversy regarding the effectiveness of brachial plexus reconstruction for elbow function in older patients, as reported outcomes are generally poor. The purpose of this study was to evaluate elbow function outcomes in patients older than 50. METHODS: Fifty-eight patients older than 50 years underwent nerve grafting, transfers, or free functioning muscle transfer to improve elbow function after traumatic brachial plexus injury. Patients were evaluated preoperatively and postoperatively for elbow flexion strength and range of motion; Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand scores; pain; concomitant trauma; severity of trauma; and type of reconstruction. RESULTS: The average age of the patients was 57.8 years, and the average follow-up was 24.0 months. The average modified British Medical Research Council elbow flexion grade improved significantly from 0.26 to 2.63. Thirty-three patients (60 percent) achieved functional flexion greater than or equal to M3 postoperatively, compared to zero patients preoperatively. There was no correlation between age and modified British Medical Research Council grade. Active elbow range of motion improved significantly postoperatively, with no effect of age on flexion motion. More patients achieved greater than or equal to M3 flexion with nerve transfers (69 percent) compared to free functioning muscle transfer (43 percent). Patients had worse outcomes with high-energy injuries. The mean Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand score decreased from 51.5 to 49.6 postoperatively, and the average pain score decreased from 5.0 to 4.3. CONCLUSION: Brachial plexus reconstruction for elbow function in patients older than 50 can yield useful flexion. CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic, IV.
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