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How to cite this article: Galal H, Ahmed A, Emad Z, Mohamed E, Ahmed M. Repair and Rehabilitation of Zone Five Tendon Injuries of the Wrist. Ortho & Rheum Open Access J. 2016; 2(4): 555591. DOI: 10.19080/OROAJ.2016.02.555591
Background: Volar cut wrist injuries represent a challenge for most hand surgeons as the anatomical complexity of the hand mirrors its functional efficiency. A specialized management approach is often necessary to treat such injuries which are variables and multidisciplinary team can decrease the morbidity rate.
Purpose: To evaluate the clinical outcome of early repair and rehabilitation of zone 5 tendon injuries of the wrist and return to work after trauma.
Patients and Methods: This study included thirteen patients with volar cut wrist injuries. Ten patients were males and three patients were females. the age ranged from 18 to 46 years (average 30 years). All injuries were single sharp cut wound in flexor zone five. Injury was accidental in all patients without skeletal involvement. Neurovascular examinations were done, the sensory and motor components of the nerve tested clinically while assessment of the hand and fingers vascularity carried out by clinical study and hand held Doppler. The surgeries were done by a team of surgeons consists of orthopedic surgeon and neurosurgeon. All patients were subjected to an intensive rehabilitation program under supervision of a specialist in physiotherapy medicine. All cases were followed up for vascularity, sensation and functions of the hand, the average follow up was 8 months (range from 6 - 12).
Results: For thirteen patients over the period of clinical follow up, there was marked reduction in morbidity with satisfactory significant hand functions and no ischemia, neuroma or tendon ruptures were observed during the follow-up period.
Conclusion: Early and technically proper evaluation, exploration and repair of volar cut wrist injuries with programmed intensive rehabilitation protocol result in good functional outcome.
Hand injuries are common and account for 5-10% of emergency department (ED) injuries and 4.7% of all trauma patients . Various mechanisms of injury can lead to volar wrist injuries, and the most common are; machine injuries, glass lacerations, knife wounds, and suicide attempts . Flexor Zone five extends from distal wrist crease to the flexor musculotendinous junction as described by Verdan in 1959 .This is the most exposed and so the most vulnerable zone for injuries. Extensive injuries to flexor tendons and surrounding structures are sometimes referred to as spaghetti wrist . The functional importance of the closely packed structures, blood vessels, nerves and flexor tendons, makes the injuries in this zone very hazardous and the carful management of paramount importance [5,6]. The aim of this study was to determine the clinical outcome for early repair and programmed rehabilitation of acute cut injuries in Flexor Zone five. Also to evaluate of the efficacy of multidisciplinary team in evaluation and management of acute volar wrist injuries.
The study includes thirteen patients with average age 30 years (range from 18 to 46). All patients with single sharp cut wound in Flexor Zone five (eight patients with knife cut and five patients with glass cut) presented within 12 hours from injury to emergency department (Figure 1). Patients with all other kind of injuries and patients with associated skeletal injuries were excluded from the study. Informed written consent was taken
from all patients.
After resuscitation, pain management and tetanus
prophylaxis, complete examination of the limb was done
including proximal and distal neurovascular evaluation
and musculoskeletal examination as thoroughly as could be
done without causing pain and discomfort to patient. Rest of
examination was with held till the patient was anaesthetized
Investigations included baseline blood tests mainly
complete blood count and radiological studies. The four most
commonly involved structures included flexor carpi ulnaris,
ulnar artery, ulnar nerve and flexor digitorum superficialis.
Ulnar aspect of the wrist had more propensity for involvement
followed by central cuts of wrist. Ulnar artery alone was involved
in six cases, radial artery alone in three cases while both ulnar
and radial arteries were involved in two cases and no vascular
injury in two cases. Ulnar nerve alone was involved in three
cases, median nerve alone in five cases while both median and
ulnar nerves were involved in five cases. Superficial and deep
flexor tendons of fingers were involved in all cases with a total
of 65 tendons injured. Flexor carpi ulnaris was involved in eight cases and Flexor pollicis longus was involved in four cases.
Flexor carpi radialis was involved in nine cases while palmaris
longus was involved in ten cases (Table 1). The surgeries were
done by a team of surgeons consists of orthopedic surgeon
and neurosurgeon. All patients were operated under general
anesthesia, tourniquet control and loupe magnification. In all
cases, tendons were repaired first followed by nerves and finally
vessels except in two cases where both ulnar and radial arteries
were severed, hand needed revascularization and time since
injury was approaching 6 hours, in which case ulnar artery was
repaired first followed by the above sequence. All flexor tendons
were repaired by modified Kessler repair with 4 core sutures
with prolene 4/0 with knots in the centre followed by paratenon
running suture circumferentially with prolene 6/0. Median and
ulnar nerves were repaired with prolene 7/0. Ulnar and radial
arteries were repaired with prolene 8/0. Postoperatively, hand
was kept in a splint and elevated (Figure 3).
Postoperative physiotherapy rehabilitation program was
started after 24 hours under supervision of specialist in physical
medicine rheumatology and rehabilitation removing the
splint during physiotherapy, initially with active extension and
controlled passive flexion and passive range of motion exercises.
After two weeks activity was progressed to placing objects but not holding and after 4 weeks holding objects but not exerting
force. After 6 weeks holding and lifting light weights was allowed
with progressively increasing resistance to flexion. After 6 weeks
splint was worn only at night for another 2 weeks (Figures 4 &
5). Progressively increased activity was allowed from 8 weeks
onwards. Patients were followed-up with evaluation of:
Patency of arterial repair
Nerve repair results (sensory and motor)
Active range of motion for fingers and wrist joint,
Grip strength was evaluated. Functional recovery was
also evaluated by the duration of return to work.
The patients followed for patency of arterial repair by hand
held Doppler. None of the patients required re-exploration
for ischemia of distal limb. Doppler showed nine out of the
eleven vascular anastomoses remained patent over follow-up period. One showed loss of anastomotic patency on the first
postoperative day while another on second post-operative
day, both in cases of isolated radial artery injury. Vascularity
of hand was not found to be compromised in either case so reexploration
was not carried out.
Nerve repair results were evaluated serially by advancing
Tinnel’s sign, electrophysiological studies (nerve conduction
study and electromyography) and sensory perception scored
from (S0 to S4) compared to normal opposite upper limb.
Seven cases out of eight repaired ulnar nerves showed sensory
perception score (S4) level sensory return and one case had (S3).
On the other hand, seven cases out of ten median nerves repaired
showed sensory perception score (S4) level of sensory return,
two cases showed (S3) level of sensory return and one case had
(S2) level of sensory return. Power of intrinsic muscles of the
hand was evaluated from (Grade 0 to Grade 5). Three Opponens
pollicis had (Grade 5), six cases showed (Grade 4) while one
case showed (Grade 3), out of 10 cases of median nerve repair.
The other intrinsic muscles of the hand showed (Grade 5) in five
cases, (Grade 4) in two cases and (Grade 3) in one case of ulnar
nerve repair. Nerve conduction studies showed regenerative
changes in all repaired nerves but the results of these studies
did not always correlate exactly with clinical findings (Table 2).
The average wrist flexion was 77 degrees (range from 60
- 85) and average wrist extension was 75 degrees (range from
65 - 85). Active range of motion for fingers was evaluated by
Strickland’s Adjusted Formula [(DIP + PIP) flexion - extension
deficit x 100/175 degrees = % normal] with excellent from (75
- 100%), good from (50 - 74%), fair from (25 - 49%) and poor
less than (25%). There were eight cases had excellent results,
three cases had good results and two cases had fair results. Poor
excursion was not found in any of the repaired flexor pollicis
The power of grip strength was evaluated by using of Jamar
dynamometer compared to normal side. The average grip
strength was 75% of normal side (range from 60% to 90%).
All patients returned to their previous work and recreational
activities without disability. The patients returned to work in average 12 weeks (range from 10 - 16). One patient had
superficial infection treated with oral antibiotics and daily
dressing. Mild occasional wrist pain was recorded in two
patients. The pain did not affect work status or daily activities
and no need for medical treatment. Neuroma, tendon rupture or
tendon adhesions did not recorded in any one of our patients
but one patient had painful hypertrophic volar wrist scar treated
with local corticosteroids injection and Silicone sheets for 12
weeks, the hypertrophic scar gradually regress.
Injuries to the volar wrist surface have the potential to be
severely debilitating, mainly due to the superficial location
and high density of tendons, nerves and arteries in that area
. Extensive injuries to flexor tendons and surrounding
structures are sometimes referred to as spaghetti wrist [4-
6]. The tendons have pretty less inherent tendency of healing.
The functional integrity of hand requires intact neurovascular
units and a stable platform in the form of a normal wrist joint . Per-operatively, close proximity of structures poses a great
challenge in identification of structures. Repair of structures is
highly demanding especially in combined neural and tendon
injuries . Postoperatively, inter-structural adhesions are a
major problem. Prolonged rest postoperatively increases the
propensity for adhesions while early mobility impairs healing of
nerves . It was found that Zone five Flexor tendon injury is
much more common in younger and manually working people.
Tuncali et al.  studied a total of 228 patients with various
types of upper extremity structures injuries. They concluded
that tendon and nerve repair are far superior in the younger age
group people .
This further supports the findings of Yrjana et al.  who
studied the tendon repair in pediatric age group in 28 patients
with 45 injured structures in upper extremity. Accidental injuries
are far more common than suicidal and homicidal cases. So most
of these patients are co-operative and motivated and have a
high intent of recovery and return to work [10,11]. This further
stresses on the need for early repair in these patients. This
study shows that primary repair of flexor tendons has superior
results as far as postoperative functional recovery is concerned
compared to results of studies with delayed repairs. Chan et al.
 came to same conclusion in their study of 31 zone 2 flexor
tendon injuries. Strickland also agreed on an early primary
repair of flexor tendons . Primary repair of nerves also has
a superior outcome . In the present study the results of
primary repair of ulnar and median nerves are comparable. This
is shown by the improvement in sensation, which is comparable
in patients post-ulnar and median nerve repairs.
Motor return in both groups of nerve repairs, shown by
recovery of Opponens pollicis and adductors, is also comparable.
This is in accordance with the Karaberg et al.  comparison
of Ulnar and Median nerve repairs, in which they studied 55
patients post-ulnar and/or median nerve repair. This study
also concludes that electrophysiological studies do not always
co relate accurately with clinical assessment and so they should
only be considered in conjunction with clinical evaluation rather
than alone as a diagnostic tool as shown by Dutelli et al.  in
their study as well. This study also implies that the increasing
number of core sutures is directly proportional to the strength of
repair and it does not hamper the healing or gliding of tendons.
It did not have an impact on the adhesion formation as well
which is in accord with a number of other studies.
An additional advantage of multiple core sutures, four in
case of this study is that early mobilization and physiotherapy
can be carried out which has beneficial effects in both promotion
of healing and prevention of adhesion formation, as stated by
Morya et al.  in their study of various suture techniques for
flexor tendon repair. There has always been a debate on early
versus late mobilization post-tendon repair. Some believe in
commencement of early physiotherapy while others believe
in prolonged rest post-tendon repair. In this study it was seen that with proper technique of repair, early mobilization and
therapy is safe and indeed beneficial. It has been proposed as the
stress theory that controlled early stress promotes the healing
process of tendons. Prolonged rest post-tendon repair may
be responsible for adhesion formation which is an important
limiting factor in the final recovery and return of function after
tendon repair. This was also shown in an elaborate study by
Hung et al. . Some of these studies were characterized by
the variation of settings in which the injuries occurred including
domestic neat blade cuts to industrial machine injuries with
grossly contaminated wounds. Also some patients were more
motivated in rehabilitation therapy than others. It is beyond the
scope of this study to achieve all these standardizations.
Care of patients with acute hand injury begins with a focused
history and physical examination. In most clinical scenarios, a
diagnosis is achieved clinically. While most patients require
straight forward treatment, the emergency clinician must
rapidly identify limb-threatening injuries and obtain critical
clinical information. From all results reported in the present
study, it can be said that, multidisciplinary team can evaluate and
manage acute volar wrist injuries saving time and decreasing
post-operative functional disability with short time to return
to patient’s daily activity due to accurate repair of injured
structures, early movement and appropriate rehabilitation
program which need patient co-operation.
All procedures followed were in accordance with the
ethical standards of the responsible committee on human
experimentation (institutional and national) and with the
Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008. Informed
consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the