Upper extremity nerve transfers for acute flaccid myelitis: a systematic literature review

P. Texakalidis, D. Xenos, N. K. Murthy, C. L. Karras, S. J. Trybula, M. Behbahani, M. G. DeCuypere, S. K. Lam, T. D. Alden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a rare disease that commonly affects young children. AFM’s pathophysiology involves loss of lower motor neurons following a viral infection and induces acute asymmetric flaccid paralysis most commonly in the upper extremities. Nerve transfers have emerged as a treatment option for these patients with permanent motor deficits. Objective: To summarize the literature and report safety and efficacy outcomes following nerve transfers for recovery of shoulder abduction and external rotation, and elbow flexion and extension in pediatric patients with AFM. Recovery of at least antigravity function was defined as a successful outcome. This systematic review was performed according to the PRISMA guidelines. The PubMed, Embase and Cochrane databases were utilized. Results: Five studies comprising 44 patients (median age 2.95 years; 71% male), and 93 upper extremity nerve transfers were included. Thirty-eight patients received 65 nerve transfer procedures aiming for recovery of shoulder abduction and/or external rotation with a transfer to the axillary and/or suprascapular nerve. The recovery of shoulder abduction and external rotation was achieved in 40.7% (n = 11/27) and 60% (n = 6/10) of patients, respectively. Time from injury to surgery showed an inverse relationship with the odds for successful recovery (OR: 0.81; 95% CI: 0.64–1.02; p = 0.07); however, statistical significance was not reached. Successful recovery of elbow flexion with a transfer to the musculocutaneous was reported at a rate of 92.3% (n = 12/13). Successful re-innervation of the radial nerve with recovery of elbow extension was found in 75% (n = 6/8) of patients. No complications were reported. Conclusions: Upper extremity nerve transfers appear to be promising and safe for AFM patients. Shoulder abduction is the most challenging upper extremity function to recover. Further studies are warranted to identify whether nerve transfers are associated with superior outcomes when performed earlier.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-526
Number of pages6
JournalChild's Nervous System
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Acute flaccid myelitis
  • Elbow flexion
  • Nerve transfer
  • Shoulder abduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Neurology


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