Upper Limb Surgery

​Reconstructive Upper Limb Surgery

The upper limb surgery team (based at the Burwood Spinal Unit) is devoted to improving arm and hand function in people with tetraplegia.  Reconstructive techniques involve the transfer of active upper limb muscles and tendons to restore/improve functions lost following a spinal cord injury. 

The team consists of surgeons, rehabilitation doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists with expertise in different aspects of treatment and care of people with tetraplegia.  People with tetraplegia living in NZ have surgery performed at the BSU, but post-surgical rehabilitation can be provided at either the BSU or the Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit​ (ASRU), dependent upon individual preferences.  Upper limb surgery has been performed at the Burwood Spinal Unit since 1984 with over 200 people in NZ having had at least one upper limb procedure during this time.

Optimal timing for surgery is when the individual is physically, mentally and socially ready to undergo surgery and the demanding post-operative rehabilitation.  One year following SCI is normally the earliest it is undertaken and it can be successfully performed as long as 30 years after the spinal cord injury.  Options for reconstruction depend on the specific needs of the person and spare active muscles they have available for transfer.  

Restoration of pinch / grip function in the handThe most common operations are:

  • Restoration of elbow extension

  • Restoration of pinch / grip function in the hand.

Referral for an assessment is via spinal unit consultant or outreach team.

Assessment for surgery is available at the BSU (clinics held fortnightly) or the ASRU (clinics held twice a year).

More information

More information can be found in the Upper Limb Surgery Booklet or by contacting the BSU Surgery Team

Upper Limb Surgery
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Page last reviewed: 17 October 2016