Lack of evidence of the effectiveness of primary brachial plexus surgery for infants (under the age of two years) diagnosed with obstetric brachial plexus palsy
Background Obstetric brachial plexus palsy, which occurs in 1–3 per 1000 live births, results from traction and/or compression of the brachial plexus in utero, during descent through the birth canal or during delivery. This results in a spectrum of injuries that range in extent of damage and severity and can lead to a lifelong impairment and functional difficulties associated with the use of the affected upper limb. Most infants diagnosed with obstetric brachial plexus palsy receive treatment, such as surgery to the brachial plexus, physiotherapy or occupational therapy, within the first months of life. However, there is controversy regarding the most effective form of management. This review follows on from our previous systematic review which investigated the effectiveness of primary conservative management in infants with obstetric brachial plexus palsy. This systematic review focuses on the effects of primary surgery. Objectives The objective of this review was to systematically assess and collate all available evidence on effectiveness of primary brachial plexus surgery for infants with obstetric brachial plexus palsy. Search strategy A systematic literature search was performed using 13 databases: TRIP, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, Proquest 5000, Evidence Based Medicine Reviews, Expanded Academic ASAP, Meditext, Science Direct, the Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Proquest Digital Dissertations, Open Archives Initiative Search Engine, the Australian Digital Thesis program. Those studies that were reported in English and published between July 1992 to June 2004 were included in this review. Selection criteria Quantitative studies that investigated the effectiveness of primary brachial plexus surgery for infants with obstetric brachial plexus palsy were eligible for inclusion into this review. This excluded studies where infants were solely managed conservatively or with pharmacological agents, or underwent surgery for the management of secondary deformities. Data collection and analysis Two independent reviewers assessed the eligibility of each study for inclusion into the review, the study design used and its methodological quality. Where any disagreement occurred, consensus was reached by discussion. Studies were also assessed for clinical homogeneity by considering populations, interventions and outcomes. Where heterogeneity was present, synthesis was undertaken in a narrative format. Results Twenty-one studies were included in the review. Most were ranked low on the hierarchy of evidence (no randomised controlled trials were found), and most had only fair methodological quality. Surgical intervention was variable, as were the eligibility criteria for surgery, the timing of surgery and the outcome instruments used to evaluate the effect of surgery. Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness of primary brachial plexus surgery for infants with obstetric brachial plexus palsy. Conclusions Although there is a wealth of information regarding the outcome following primary brachial plexus surgery it was not possible to determine whether this treatment is effective in increasing functional recovery in infants with obstetric brachial plexus palsy. Further research is required to develop standardised surgical criteria, and standardised outcome measures should be used at specific points in time during the recovery process to facilitate comparison between studies. Moreover, comparison groups are required to determine the relative effectiveness of surgery compared with other forms of management.
International Journal of Evidence Based Healthcare