Prevention of axillary nerve injury in anterior shoulder reconstructions: Use of a subscapularis muscle-splitting technique and a review of the literature

Edward G McFarland, Juan Carlos Caicedo, Tae Kyun Kim, Prachan Banchasuek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Previous authors have suggested that the axillary nerve should be explored or palpated during all anterior shoulder stabilization procedures. Objective: The goal of this study was to document the axillary nerve injury rate in a cohort of patients who had undergone anterior shoulder stabilization without axillary nerve dissection. Hypothesis: Use of a subscapularis muscle-splitting approach by using a retractor along the scapular neck does not result in significant risk of injury to the axillary nerve, and exploration of the axillary nerve is not necessary using this approach. Study Design: Prospective cohort study. Methods: One hundred and twenty-eight anterior stabilizations were performed with a subscapularis muscle-splitting approach that has been previously described. In all cases a retractor was placed along the inferior scapular neck to protect the axillary nerve. The axillary nerve was not exposed or palpated in any case. All patients were evaluated on the 1st postoperative day and again within 10 days for symptoms of axillary nerve palsy, including sensory loss and return of muscle function. One patient (0.8%) had paresthesia in an axillary nerve distribution; recovery occurred without the need for electromyography or other interventions. There were no clinically detected cases of axillary nerve motor dysfunction. Conclusions: Routine exposure of the axillary nerve is not necessary during anterior stabilization procedures using a subscapularis muscle-splitting approach if proper precautions are taken to protect the nerve. Other techniques of anterior stabilization may require exposure of the axillary nerve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-606
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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