Expectations and limitations due to brachial plexus injury: a qualitative study

Hand (N Y). 2015 Dec;10(4):741-9. doi: 10.1007/s11552-015-9761-z. Epub 2015 May 1.

Abstract

Purpose: This study described physical and psychosocial limitations associated with adult brachial plexus injuries (BPI) and patients' expectations of BPI surgery.

Methods: During in-person interviews, preoperative patients were asked about expectations of surgery and preoperative and postoperative patients were asked about limitations due to BPI. Postoperative patients also rated improvement in condition after surgery. Data were analyzed with qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Results: Ten preoperative and 13 postoperative patients were interviewed; mean age was 37 years, 19 were men, all were employed/students, and most injuries were due to trauma. Preoperative patients cited several main expectations, including pain-related issues, and improvement in arm movement, self-care, family interactions, and global life function. Work-related expectations were tailored to employment type. Preoperative and postoperative patients reported that pain, altered sensation, difficulty managing self-care, becoming physically and financially dependent, and disability in work/school were major issues. All patients reported making major compensations, particularly using the uninjured arm. Most reported multiple mental health effects, were distressed with long recovery times, were self-conscious about appearance, and avoided public situations. Additional stresses were finding and paying for BPI surgery. Some reported BPI impacted overall physical health, life priorities, and decision-making processes. Four postoperative patients reported hardly any improvement, four reported some/a good deal, and five reported a great deal of improvement.

Conclusions: BPI is a life-altering event affecting physical function, mental well-being, financial situation, relationships, self-image, and plans for the future. This study contributes to clinical practice by highlighting topics to address to provide comprehensive BPI patient-centered care.

Keywords: Brachial plexus injury; Disability; Expectations; Qualitative.