Distribution of primary motor nerve branches and terminal nerve entry points to the forearm muscles

Anat Rec. 1997 Jul;248(3):456-63. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0185(199707)248:3<456::AID-AR19>3.0.CO;2-O.


Background: The information available on innervation pattern of the human forearm muscles in standard anatomy texts, although adequate for routine procedures, is not detailed enough for surgical reconstruction in complex injuries of the limb and for paralytic conditions of the forearm from peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries.

Methods: The innervation pattern in 10 cadaveric forearms was studied. The contributions of the main nerve trunks to each forearm muscle was examined. The location and number of the primary motor nerve branching points and of the terminal nerve entry points to each muscle were investigated. The location of both the primary nerve branching points and terminal nerve entry points was presented as a percentage of forearm length measured from the lateral humeral epicondyle to the radial styloid.

Results: Seven of 19 forearm muscles were innervated from a single branch from the main nerve trunk. The remaining 12 received more than one primary branch. Two of 19 forearm muscles had only one terminal nerve entry point. The others had two or more each. In 13 of 19 forearm muscles, the statistical median location of the primary motor nerve branching points was within the proximal one-third of the forearm length and either more proximally or distally for the remainder. The statistical median location of the terminal nerve entry points was within the proximal one-third in 9 forearm muscles and within the middle one-third of the forearm in 8 forearm muscles. In two, it was located proximal to the elbow and in the distal one-third of the forearm, respectively.

Conclusions: In lacerations across the forearm, where main nerve trunks are divided, mere repair of the nerve trunks would not address the denervation of muscle or segments of muscle by the division of the primary (or secondary) nerve branches traversing the wound and which took origin proximal to the laceration either from the divided nerve trunks or from other undamaged nerve trunks. Although the main nerve trunks may be intact, segmental crush injuries will defunction muscles by direct muscle damage or by damage to the terminal nerve entry points to the muscle. Knowledge of the location of the nerve branches and the terminal nerve entry points facilitates the insertion of electrodes at the motor points of forearm muscles for functional electrical stimulation in upper motor neuron lesions. The information in this study may also be usefully applied in selective denervation procedures to balance muscles in spastic upper limbs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Forearm / innervation*
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*