Author(s): Rahul K Nath
Background Scapular hypoplasia, elevation, and rotation (SHEAR) deformity and posterior subluxation of the humeral head are common tertiary sequelae of obstetric brachial plexus injuries (OBPI). Interpretations of images from bilateral computed tomography (CT) scans of the upper extremities are critical to the diagnosis and treatment plan for patients with these bony deformities resulting from OBPI. Methods We conducted a retrospective study to investigate the accuracy of radiologic reports in the diagnosis of SHEAR or posterior subluxation of the humeral head in OBPI patients. CT studies from 43 consecutive patients over a 33-month period were used in the study. For each patient, we compared the results from the radiologic report to those from a clinical examination given by the attending surgeon and to measurements taken from the CT studies by biomedical researchers. Results A comparison of SHEAR measured from the 3-D CT images to the diagnoses from the radiologists, revealed that only 40% of the radiological reports were accurate. However, there was a direct correlation between the use of the 3-D CT images and an accurate SHEAR diagnosis by the radiologists (p < 0.0001). When posterior subluxation was measured in the affected and contralateral shoulders, 93% of the patients that had greater than a 10% difference between the two shoulders did not have their deformity diagnosed. The radiological reports diagnosed 17% of these patients with a 'normal' shoulder. Only 5% of the reports were complete, accurately diagnosing SHEAR in addition to posterior subluxation. Conclusion Due to the low incidence rate of OBPI, many radiologists may be unfamiliar with the sequelae of these injuries. It is therefore critical that radiologists are made aware of the importance of an accurate measurement and diagnosis of the SHEAR deformity. Due to their lack of completeness, the radiological reports in this study did not significantly contribute to the clinical care of the patients. In order for OBPI patients to receive the highest standard of care, the final diagnosis from their radiological imaging should be deferred to a brachial plexus specialist who is experienced with these types of injuries.