Defining the proximity of the axillary nerve from defined anatomic landmarks: an in vivo magnetic resonance imaging study

Simon B.M. MacLean, Teriana Maheno, Alex Boyle, Amanda Ragg, Gregory I. Bain, Ian Galley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The location of the axillary nerve in the shoulder makes it vulnerable to traumatic or iatrogenic injury. Cadaveric studies have reported the location of the axillary nerve but are limited because of tissue compression, dehydration, and decay. Three-Tesla (T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows high anatomic resolution of neural structures. The aim of our study was to better define the location of the axillary nerve from defined bony surgical landmarks in vivo, using MRI scan. Methods: Using MRI, we defined a number of anatomic points and measured the distance from these to the perineural fat surrounding the axillary nerve using simultaneous tracker lines on both images. Two observers were used. Results: A total of 187 consecutive 3-T MRI shoulder scans were included. Mean age was 57.9 years (range 18-86). The axillary nerve was located at a mean of 14.1 mm inferior from the bony glenoid at the anterior border, 11.9 mm from the midpoint, and 12.0 mm from the posterior border. There was a significant difference between distance at the anterior border and midpoint (P < .001), and between the anterior and posterior borders (P < .001). The axillary nerve was located at a mean of 12.6 mm medial to the humeral shaft at the anterior border, 9.9 mm at the midpoint, and 8.6 mm from the posterior border. There was a significant difference between distance at the anterior border and midpoint (P = .008) and between the anterior and posterior borders (P = .002). The mean distance of the axillary nerve from the anterolateral edge of the acromion was 53.3 mm (95% confidence interval [CI] 52.3, 54.2; range 33.9-76.3). The mean distance of the axillary nerve from the inferior edge of the capsule was 2.7 mm (95% CI 2.9, 3.1; range 0.3-9.9). There was a positive correlation between humeral head diameter and axillary nerve distance from the inferior glenoid (R2 = 0.061, P < .001). There was a positive correlation between humeral head diameter and distance from the anterolateral edge of the acromion (R2 = 0.140, P < .001). Conclusion: Our study has defined the proximity of the axillary nerve from defined anatomic landmarks. The proximity of the axillary nerve to the inferior glenoid and medial humeral shaft changes as the axillary nerve passes from anterior to posterior. The distance of the axillary nerve from the anterolateral edge of the acromion remains relatively constant. Both sets of distances may be affected by humeral head size. The study has relevance to the shoulder surgeon when considering “safe zones” during arthroscopic or open surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-735
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • Anatomy Study
  • arthroscopic surgery
  • Axillary nerve
  • Imaging
  • MRI scan
  • open surgery
  • shoulder

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