Science Daily reports on a new study in The Lancet about a new type of surgery that restored hand and elbow function in 13 people with complete paralysis. The surgery might bring hope to people with brachial plexus injuries and Erb’s Palsy.
The surgery is called nerve transfer surgery. Surgeons attach functioning nerves above the spinal injury to paralyzed nerves below. According to the study, the participants are now able to feed themselves, hold a drink, write, and brush their teeth two years after the surgery.
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In some of the participants, the surgery was combined with traditional tendon transfers to study different kinds of reconstruction. The researchers transferred nerves in one hand and tendons in the other. Nerve transfers restored natural movement and fine motor control, while tendon transfers deliver power. Recovery times for nerve transfer surgery were far shorter than tendon transfers.
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The participants said that they liked the particular benefits of each surgery and would not want to have the same surgery done on both hands now that they’ve seen the differences. However, it is not a perfect technique. Four of the nerve transfers failed with three participants. More research is needed, but the researchers are positive.
Erb’s Palsy is much less serious than complete paralysis, so we hope that this nerve transfer technique can be used in children with the condition soon so they can have normal arm and hand function.