Primary Nerve Repair for Obstetrical Brachial Plexus Injury
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BACKGROUND: Nerve repair may be effective in improving function following obstetrical brachial plexus injury. No previous review has directly compared nerve repair to nonoperative management for similar patients, and no previous analysis has been adequately powered to determine whether nerve repair reduces impairment. METHODS: Electronic databases were searched (MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, and Cochrane Central). Eligible studies were randomized controlled trials, observational studies, and case series (n > 9); included patients younger than 2 years undergoing nerve repair or nonoperative management of obstetrical brachial plexus injury; and reported functional impairment. Two reviewers independently screened articles using objective a priori criteria. Bias was assessed for each study. Overall quality of evidence was evaluated for each outcome. RESULTS: Among nine cohort studies including 222 patients, nerve repair significantly reduced functional impairment compared with nonoperative management (relative risk, 0.58; 95 percent CI, 0.43 to 0.79; p < 0.001; I = 0 percent; absolute risk reduction, 19 percent; number needed to treat, six). Findings are consistent with comparison of similar patients from case series. With operative management, no deaths were reported; major adverse events were reported in 1.5 percent, and minor adverse events were reported in 5.0 percent of cases. Among demographic (all severities) samples managed nonoperatively, residual impairment remains in 27 percent (19 to 36 percent). CONCLUSIONS: Nerve repair reduces functional impairment in obstetrical brachial plexus injury. Nonoperative management in patients with a deficit at 3 months of age leads to a high proportion of functional impairment. Mortality is not a common risk of modern pediatric microsurgical nerve repair. Residual impairment with nonoperative management is underestimated in the reported literature. CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic, IV.
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