Long thoracic nerve injury

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1999 Nov;(368):17-27.


Injury to the long thoracic nerve causing paralysis or weakness of the serratus anterior muscle can be disabling. Patients with serratus palsy may present with pain, weakness, limitation of shoulder elevation, and scapular winging with medial translation of the scapula, rotation of the inferior angle toward the midline, and prominence of the vertebral border. Long thoracic nerve dysfunction may result from trauma or may occur without injury. Fortunately, most patients experience a return of serratus anterior function with conservative treatment, but recovery may take as many as 2 years. Bracing often is tolerated poorly. Patients with severe symptoms in whom 12 months of conservative treatment has failed may benefit from surgical reconstruction. Although many surgical procedures have been described, the current preferred treatment is transfer of the sternal head of the pectoralis major tendon to the inferior angle of the scapula reinforced with fascia or tendon autograft. Many series have shown good to excellent results, with consistent improvement in function, elimination of winging, and reduction of pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / surgery
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / therapy*
  • Scapula
  • Tendon Transfer
  • Thoracic Nerves / injuries*