Early Elbow Flexion Contracture Predicts Shoulder Contracture in Infants with Brachial Plexus Birth Injury

J Pediatr. 2024 Jan:264:113739. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2023.113739. Epub 2023 Sep 17.


Objective: To determine if children who present with an elbow flexion contracture (EFC) from brachial plexus birth injury (BPBI) are more likely to develop shoulder contracture and undergo surgical treatment.

Study design: Retrospective review of children <2 years of age with BPBI who presented to a single children's hospital from 1993 to 2020. Age, elbow and shoulder range of motion (ROM), imaging measurements, and surgical treatment and outcome were analyzed. Patients with an EFC of ≥10° were included in the study sample. Data from 2445 clinical evaluations (1190 patients) were assessed. The final study cohort included 72 EFC cases matched with 230 non-EFC controls. Three patients lacked sufficient follow-up data.

Results: There were 299 included patients who showed no differences between study and control groups with respect to age, sex, race, ethnicity, or functional score. Patients with EFC had 12° less shoulder range of motion (95% CI, 5°-20°; P < .001) and had 2.5 times the odds of shoulder contracture (OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.3-4.7; P = .006). For each additional 5° of EFC, the odds of shoulder contracture increased by 50% (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2-1.8; P < .001) and odds of shoulder procedure increased by 62% (OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.04-2.53; P = .03). Sensitivity of EFC for predicting shoulder contracture was 49% and specificity was 82%.

Conclusions: In patients with BPBI <2 years of age, presence of EFC can be used as a screening tool in identifying shoulder contractures that may otherwise be difficult to assess. Prompt referral should be arranged for evaluation at a BPBI specialty clinic, because delayed presentation risks worsening shoulder contracture and potentially more complicated surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Injuries* / complications
  • Birth Injuries* / diagnosis
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathies* / complications
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathies* / diagnosis
  • Brachial Plexus* / injuries
  • Brachial Plexus* / surgery
  • Child
  • Contracture* / diagnosis
  • Contracture* / etiology
  • Elbow
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Shoulder
  • Treatment Outcome