Intraoperative Shoulder Traction as Cause of C5 Palsy: Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Royce W. Woodroffe, Logan C. Helland, Adam Bryant, Kirill V. Nourski, Satoshi Yamaguchi, Liesl Close, Jennifer Noeller, Nahom Teferi, Joan E. Maley, Patrick W. Hitchon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: During surgery, shoulder traction is often used for better fluoroscopic imaging of the lower cervical spine. Traction on the C5 root has been implicated as a potential cause of C5 palsy after cervical spine surgery. Using magnetic resonance imaging, this study was undertaken to determine the impact of upper extremity traction on the C5 root orientation. Methods: In this study, 5 subjects underwent coronal magnetic resonance imaging of the cervical spine and left brachial plexus. Using a wrist restraint, sequential traction on the left arm with 10, 20, and 30 lb. was applied. Measurements of the angle between the spinal axis and C5 nerve root and the angle between the C5 nerve root and the upper trunk of the brachial plexus were obtained. The measurements were taken by a trained neuroradiologist and analyzed for significance. Results: The angle between the C5 nerve root and the vertical spinal axis remained within 3 and 4 degrees of the mean and was not found to be associated with increased traction weight (P = 0.753). The angle between the C5 root and the upper trunk increased with increasing weight and was found to be statistically significant (P = 0.003). Conclusions: While the cause of C5 palsy is likely multifactorial, this study provides evidence that, in the awake volunteer, upper extremity traction leads to C5 root and upper trunk tension. These results suggest that shoulder traction in the anesthetized patient could lead to tension of the C5 nerve root and subsequent injury and palsy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e393-e397
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Brachial plexus
  • C5 palsy
  • Cervical fusion
  • Cervical myelopathy
  • Cervical spondylosis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Journal Article


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