Volar versus dorsal approach for supinator to posterior interosseous nerve transfer: An anatomical study in cadavers

Microsurgery. 2023 Sep;43(6):597-605. doi: 10.1002/micr.31036. Epub 2023 Mar 14.


Introduction: Supinator to posterior interosseous nerve (SPIN) transfer allows reconstruction of finger/thumb extension and thumb abduction for low radial nerve palsy, incomplete C6 tetraplegia, and brachial plexus injury affecting C7-T1. No study has compared dorsal versus volar approach to perform SPIN transfer. This comparison is studied in the present work, assessing supinator motor branch length and ability to achieve nerve transfer from either approach.

Methods: Ten fresh frozen cadavers were randomly allocated to receive either a dorsal or volar approach to PIN and supinator radial and ulnar branches (RB = radial, UB = ulnar). Supinator head innervation patterns were documented. RB and UB lengths, forearm lengths measured from ulnar styloid to olecranon, visualization of extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) motor nerve without additional dissection, and ability to perform tension-free nerve transfer were assessed.

Results: Nine of 10 specimens had supinator branches innervating both heads. The ECRB nerve was visualized in all volar but only one dorsal approach. No significant differences in forearm length were found. Volar with elbow extended: mean RB length was 35 ± 7.8 mm and UB was 37.8 ± 9.3 mm. Dorsal with elbow extended: mean RB length was 30 ± 4.1 mm and UB was 38.8 ± 7.3 mm. Dorsal with elbow flexed 90°: RB was 25.6 ± 3.8 mm and UB was 34.8 ± 4.8 mm. No significant differences were found in branch lengths between approaches (dorsal vs. volar UB, p = .339; dorsal vs. volar RB, p = .117). All limbs achieved tension-free coaptation.

Conclusion: Neither approach demonstrated superiority in achieving tension-free nerve transfer. Volar permitted immediate identification of ECRB nerve whereas this was only visualized in one dorsal specimen without additional dissection. Overall, the volar approach allows direct coaptation in elbow extension, mimicking maximal physiologic tension for neurorrhaphy. It simultaneously permits additional procedures for pinch reconstruction via single exposure, circumventing limb/microscope maneuvering, dorsal dissection, and increased operative time. Ultimate choice of approach should depend on surgeon familiarity and potential need for additional simultaneous transfers.

MeSH terms

  • Brachial Plexus* / injuries
  • Brachial Plexus* / surgery
  • Cadaver
  • Forearm / surgery
  • Humans
  • Nerve Transfer* / methods
  • Radial Nerve / surgery