Submuscular Versus Subcutaneous Ulnar Nerve Transposition: A Cadaveric Model Evaluating Their Role in Primary Ulnar Nerve Repair at the Elbow

Brandon S. Smetana, Edward W. Jernigan, Wayne A. Rummings, Paul S. Weinhold, Reid W. Draeger, J. Megan M. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose To investigate the length gained from subcutaneous and submuscular transposition of the ulnar nerve at the elbow. Specifically, the study aimed to define an expected nerve gap able to be overcome, and to determine if a difference between transposition techniques exists. Methods Eleven cadaveric specimens from the scapula to fingertip were procured. In situ decompression and mobilization of the ulnar nerve at the elbow followed by simulated laceration of the nerve was performed. Nerves were marked 5 mm from the laceration site to facilitate overlap measurement and to simulate nerve end preparation to viable fascicles before primary coaptation. Nerve ends were attached to spring gauges set at 100 g of tension (strain ≤ 10%). Measurements of nerve overlap were obtained in varying degrees of wrist (0°, 30°, 60°) and elbow (0°, 15°, 30°, 45°, 60°, 90°) flexion. Measurements were performed after in situ decompression and mobilization, and then repeated after both subcutaneous and submuscular transposition. Results Ulnar nerve transposition was found to increase nerve overlap at an elbow flexion of 30° or greater. No difference was seen between subcutaneous and submuscular transpositions at all wrist and elbow positions. In situ decompression and mobilization alone provided an average of 3.5 cm of length gain with the elbow extended. Transposition in conjunction with clinically feasible wrist and elbow flexion (30° and 60°, respectively) provided 5.2 cm of length gain. Controlling for mobilization, a statistically significant increase in overlap of approximately 2 cm was gained from transposition. Conclusions Although mobilization combined with wrist and elbow flexion may afford substantial gap reduction and should be used initially when approaching proximal ulnar nerve lacerations, transposition should be considered when faced with a large nerve gap greater than 3 cm at the elbow. No difference was seen between submuscular and subcutaneous transposition techniques. Clinical relevance This study defines the extent an ulnar nerve gap at the elbow can be overcome by in situ mobilization, joint positioning, and transposition. It additionally compares the efficacy of submuscular and subcutaneous transposition techniques in closing this gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571.e1-571.e7
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadaver model
  • subcutaneous
  • submuscular
  • transposition
  • ulnar nerve repair

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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