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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Microneurolysis and decompression of long thoracic nerve injury are effective in reversing scapular winging: Long-term results in 50 cases

Rahul K Nath1*, Andrew B Lyons2 and Gabriel Bietz2

Author Affiliations

1 Director, Texas Nerve and Paralysis Institute, Houston, Texas 77030, USA

2 Research Associate, Texas Nerve and Paralysis Institute, Houston, Texas 77030, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2007, 8:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-8-25

Published: 7 March 2007



Long thoracic nerve injury leading to scapular winging is common, often caused by closed trauma through compression, stretching, traction, direct extrinsic force, penetrating injury, or neuritides such as Parsonage-Turner syndrome. We undertook the largest series of long thoracic nerve decompression and neurolysis yet reported to demonstrate the usefulness of long thoracic nerve decompression.


Winging was bilateral in 3 of the 47 patients (26 male, 21 female), yielding a total of 50 procedures. The mean age of the patients was 33.4 years, ranging from 24–57. Causation included heavy weight-lifting (31 patients), repetitive throwing (5 patients), deep massage (2 patients), repetitive overhead movement (1 patient), direct trauma (1 patient), motor bike accident (1 patient), and idiopathic causes (9 patients). Decompression and microneurolysis of the long thoracic nerve were performed in the supraclavicular space. Follow-up (average of 25.7 months) consisted of physical examination and phone conversations. The degree of winging was measured by the operating surgeon (RKN). Patients also answered questions covering 11 quality-of-life facets spanning four domains of the World Health Organization Quality of Life questionnaire.


Thoracic nerve decompression and neurolysis improved scapular winging in 49 (98%) of the 50 cases, producing "good" or "excellent" results in 46 cases (92%). At least some improvement occurred in 98% of cases that were less than 10 years old. Pain reduction through surgery was good or excellent in 43 (86%) cases. Shoulder instability affected 21 patients preoperatively and persisted in 5 of these patients after surgery, even in the 5 patients with persistent instability who experienced some relief from the winging itself.


Surgical decompression and neurolysis of the long thoracic nerve significantly improve scapular winging in appropriate patients, for whom these techniques should be considered a primary modality of functional restoration.