Applied anatomy of the superficial branch of the radial nerve

A. J. Robson, M. S. See, H. Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The superficial branch of the radial nerve (SBRN) is highly vulnerable to trauma and iatrogenic injury. This study aimed to map the course of the SBRN in the context of surgical approaches and identify a safe area of incision for de Quervain's tenosynovitis. Twenty-five forearms were dissected. The SBRN emerged from under brachioradialis by a mean of 8.31 cm proximal to the radial styloid (RS), and remained radial to the dorsal tubercle of the radius by a mean of 1.49 cm. The nerve divided into a median of four branches. The first branch arose a mean of 4.92 cm proximal to the RS, traveling 0.49 cm radial to the first compartment of the extensor retinaculum, while the main nerve remained ulnar to it by 0.64 cm. All specimens had branches underlying the traditional transverse incision for de Quervain's release. A 2.5-cm longitudinal incision proximal from the RS avoided the SBRN in 17/25 cases (68%). In 20/ 25 specimens (80%), the SBRN underlay the cephalic vein. In 18/25 (72%), the radial artery was closely associated with a sensory nerve branch near the level of the RS (SBRN 12/25, lateral cutaneous nerve of the forearm (LCNF) 6/25.) A longitudinal incision in de Quervain's surgery may be preferable. Cannulation of the cephalic vein in the distal third of the forearm is best avoided. The close association between the radial artery and first branch of the SBRN or the LCNF may explain the pain often experienced during arterial puncture. Particular care should be taken during radial artery harvest to avoid nerve injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-45
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


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