Injuries to the limb are the most frequent cause of permanent disability following combat wounds. We reviewed the medical records of 450 soldiers to determine the type of upper limb nerve injuries sustained, the rate of remaining motor and sensory deficits at final follow-up, and the type of Army disability ratings granted. Of 189 soldiers with an injury of the upper limb, 70 had nerve-related trauma. There were 62 men and eight women with a mean age of 25 years (18 to 49). Disabilities due to nerve injuries were associated with loss of function, neuropathic pain or both. The mean nerve-related disability was 26% (0% to 70%), accounting for over one-half of this cohort's cumulative disability. Patients injured in an explosion had higher disability ratings than those injured by gunshot. The ulnar nerve was most commonly injured, but most disability was associated with radial nerve trauma. In terms of the final outcome, at military discharge 59 subjects (84%) experienced persistent weakness, 48 (69%) had a persistent sensory deficit and 17 (24%) experienced chronic pain from scar-related or neuropathic pain. Nerve injury was the cause of frequent and substantial disability in our cohort of wounded soldiers.
Keywords: Brachial plexus; Combat injury; Disability; Median nerve; Military service; Nerve injury; Radial nerve; Ulnar nerve.