Sarcomere length changes after flexor carpi ulnaris to extensor digitorum communis tendon transfer

R. L. Lieber*, E. Ponten, T. J. Burkholder, J. Friden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Sarcomere length was measured intraoperatively on five patients undergoing tendon transfer of the flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU) to the extensor digitorum communis (EDC) for radial nerve palsy. The most significant result was that the absolute sarcomere length and sarcomere length operating range of the FCU increased after transfer into the EDC (p < .001). Preoperatively, with the wrist fully extended and fingers flexed, FCU sarcomere length was 4.22 ± .24 μm and decreased to 3.19 ± .05 μm as the wrist was fully flexed. This represented an overall sarcomere length range of 1.03 μm. After the tendon transfer using standard recommended techniques, all sarcomere lengths were significantly longer (p < .001). Specifically, sarcomeres were 0.74 ± .14 μm longer with the muscle in its fully lengthened position (4.96 ± .43 μm with the wrist and digits flexed) and 0.31 ± .16 μm longer with the FCU in the fully shortened position (3.50 ± .06 μm with the wrist and digits extended). At these sarcomere lengths, the FCU muscle was predicted to develop relatively high force only during movement involving synergistic wrist flexion and finger extension. Under the conditions of the procedures performed, the transferred FCU muscle was predicted to produce maximum force over the range of about 30° of wrist flexion and 0° of finger flexion to 70° of wrist extension and 90° of finger flexion. While this is acceptable, a more desirable result was predicted to occur if the muscle was transferred at a longer length. In this latter case, greater stretch of the FCU during transfer (increasing sarcomere length to about 5 μm) was predicted to improve the transfer. The more highly stretched FCU was predicted to result in maximum force as the wrist and fingers progressed from about 60° of wrist extension and 0° of finger flexion to 80° of wrist extension and 70° of finger flexion. These results quantify the relationship between the passive tension chosen for transfer, sarcomere length, and the estimated active tension that can be generated by the muscle. The results also demonstrate the feasibility of using intraoperative laser diffraction during tendon transfer as a guide for optimal placement of the transferred muscle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)612-618
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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