Restoring Hand Function After Spinal Cord Injury

Damage to the upper spine may cause paralysis (tetraplegia or quadriplegia). In some cases, tendon transfer can restore function to the arms and legs.

What is a tendon transfer?

A tendon transfer procedure is used to restore the function of the hands following spinal cord surgery. It involves connecting a section of tendon to a weakened muscle, which lets your functioning muscles compensate for paralysed ones. The tendon transfer is usually autologous (taken from your own body), which reduces your chances of infection and rejection.

As it relies on having functional muscles to connect to, tendon transfer surgery is recommended for people who still have some muscle control.

What can be achieved with a tendon transfer?

  • Straightening and bending of the elbow
  • Straightening and bending of the wrist
  • Improved grip and pinch function

Elbow tendon transfer (elbow extension)

In an elbow tendon transfer, part of the deltoid muscle is detached from the shoulder and grafted to the elbow. This imitates the function of the triceps muscle which allows you to straighten and bend your elbow. Added elbow function can help you propel a wheelchair, reach for objects, and potentially drive.

Wrist and hand tendon transfer (for key pinch)

Wrist and hand tendon transfer involves rerouting functioning muscles from the forearm and attaching them to the tendons in your hand and fingers. This can help restore grasping and pinching motions, which can help you eat, brush your teeth, write, or use a mobile phone.

Electronic implants

These are a new alternative available for patients where tendon transfers are not viable. Similar to a pacemaker, electronic implants stimulate muscles using small electrical signals. These can initiate grip and pinching actions.

What can we expect from tendon transfer surgery?

Tendon transfer surgery normally lasts about 6 hours. As it is an invasive procedure, certain risks are involved. Dr James McLean will discuss these with you prior to your procedure.

Tendon transfer surgery generally achieve a wonderful outcome for patients, restoring their hand and arm function.

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