Timing of referral to peripheral nerve specialists in patients with postoperative C5 palsy

Zach Pennington, Daniel Lubelski, Nikita Lakomkin, Benjamin D. Elder, Timothy F. Witham, Sheng Fu Larry Lo, Daniel M. Sciubba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this study was to examine the association between electrophysiology data post-C5-palsy and referral to peripheral nerve surgeons (PNS) using a 15-year cohort of patients who underwent posterior cervical decompression. Endpoints included the associations of postoperative treatments employed with functional recovery and abnormal electrophysiology data. Of 77 included patients (median 64 yr; 68% male), 48% completely recovered. The most common treatments were physical therapy (90%), occupational therapy (34%), oral corticosteroids (18%), and PNS referral (17%). Baseline weakness did not associate with PNS referral or postoperative treatment strategy. None of the treatments predicted recovery, though patients with no [versus complete] recovery were more likely to be recommended for nerve transfers (22.2 vs 0%; p = 0.03). Abnormal electromyography data associated with PNS referral (p < 0.01), nerve transfer recommendation (p < 0.01), occupational therapy referral, and oral corticosteroid therapy. Abnormal findings on EMG obtained between 6-weeks and 6-months post-injury were the most strongly associated with peripheral nerve surgeon referral (p = 0.02) and nerve transfer recommendation (p < 0.01). These data suggest strategies for postoperative C5 palsy management are highly heterogeneous. None of the treatments employed significantly predicted the extent of functional recovery. However, patients with abnormal electrophysiology results were most likely to receive multimodal treatment, suggesting these results may significantly alter medical management of patients with postoperative C5 palsy. Early (6-week to 6-month) electrophysiology data may help to ensure that patients likely to benefit from nerve transfer procedures are referred to a PNS within the 9–12-month time frame associated with the best recovery of function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-174
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Neuroscience
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Cervical decompression
  • Cervical spine
  • Electromyography
  • Nerve transfer
  • Postoperative complication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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