Introduction: Treatment of proximal humeral fractures with plate osteosynthesis or intramedullary nail fixation in humeral shaft fractures with a proximal locking bolt carries the risk of iatrogenic injury of the axillary nerve. The purpose of this anatomical study is to define a more reliable safe zone to prevent iatrogenic axillary nerve injury using the humeral head instead of the acromion as a (radiographic) reference point during operative treatment. Materials and methods: Anatomical dissection and labeling of the axillary nerve and branches was performed on 10 specially embalmed human specimens. Standard AP and straight lateral radiographs were made. The distances were measured indirectly from the cranial tip of the humerus to the axillary nerve on radiographs. Results: The median distance from the cranial tip of the humerus to the axillary nerve was 52 mm. The mean number of axillary nerve branches was 3. The distances from the cranial tip of the humerus to the nerve (branch) varied from 23 to 78 mm. The median distance from the proximal (anterior) branch was 36 mm, to the second branch 47 mm, 54 mm to the third branch and 73 mm to the fourth branch. The axillary nerve moves along with the humerus in cranial and caudal direction when the subacromial space varies. Conclusion: This study shows that the position of the axillary nerve can be better determent using the cranial tip of the humerus as a reference point instead of the acromion. Furthermore, it is unsafe to place the proximal locking bolts in the zone between 24 mm and 78 mm from the cranial tip of the humerus. The greatest chance to cause a lesion of the main branch of the axillary nerve is in the zone between 48 mm and 58 mm caudal from the tip of the humeral head.

Axillary nerve damage, Proximal humeral fracture, Quadrilateral space, Radiography, Safe zone, Surgical anatomy, Trauma surgery,
Strategies in Trauma and Limb Reconstruction
Department of Neuroscience

Theeuwes, H, Potters, J.W, Bessems, J.H.J.M, Kerver, A.J.H, & Kleinrensink, G.J. (2020). Use of the humeral head as a reference point to prevent axillary nerve damage during proximal fixation of humeral fractures: An anatomical and radiographic study. Strategies in Trauma and Limb Reconstruction, 15(2), 63–68. doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10080-1460