What is Lower Trapezius Tendon Transfer?
Lower trapezius tendon transfer is a surgical procedure to treat massive, irreparable, posterosuperior rotator cuff tears of the shoulder.
Lower trapezius tendon transfer with incorporation of an Achilles tendon allograft has emerged as an effective way to restore function and provide pain relief in patients with massive rotator cuff tears. A reparable subscapularis tear or an intact subscapularis is a necessary prerequisite for a successful outcome.
The reconstructive procedure generally involves harvesting of the lower trapezius tendon, preparation of the Achilles tendon allograft, and transfer of the lower trapezius tendon to your shoulder.
The trapezius muscle is a wide, flat and triangular muscle lying just beneath the skin covering the upper back of the shoulders and neck. It includes three parts: the upper trapezius, middle trapezius, and the lower trapezius.
Lower trapezius tendon is the last part of the trapezius muscle that is attached to your shoulder blade (scapula). It helps in rotating the shoulder and twisting the arm.
A rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that holds the shoulder joint in place and allows movement of the arm and shoulder.
Indications and Contraindications for the Procedure
Indications for the surgery include:
- Young and active patient with irreparable posterior-superior rotator cuff tears
- Persistent pain and shoulder dysfunction with limitations in elevation and external rotation
- Failed conservative treatment
- Motivated patient who is amenable to intensive physiotherapy and postoperative immobilisation along with full passive range of motion
The surgery is contraindicated in patients with:
- Deltoid deficiency
- Glenohumeral arthritis
- Chronic subscapularis deficiency
- Inability to comply with aggressive rehabilitation protocol
- Physiologically advanced age
Preparation for Surgery
As part of the preparation, your surgeon will:
- Review your medical history to ascertain about disease conditions, previous surgeries, etc.
- Perform a detailed physical examination to check for shoulder motion, external rotation, and subscapularis and scapular strength
- Order appropriate imaging, such as X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to confirm the best method of treatment for your massive rotator cuff tear
The procedure can be performed by either open or arthroscopic-assisted techniques. Your surgeon will decide on the best suitable option based on your condition. The procedure is usually performed under general anaesthesia and involves the following:
- You are preferably placed in a beach chair position.
- The extremity involved is secured in an arm holder.
- An incision is made below your scapular spine (flat bone in the back of your shoulder).
- Lower trapezius (LT) is exposed by dissecting the subcutaneous tissue under the skin.
- The lowest edge of the LT muscle is mobilised and separated from the underlying tissue.
- The tendon at the edge of the LT muscle is traced and detached from the scapular spine.
- LT tendon is then prepared with nonabsorbable sutures to ready for the transfer.
- The LT tendon is augmented by weaving it with a ready to use Achilles tendon allograft.
- The torn rotator cuff is removed arthroscopically to create room for the transfer.
- Any healthy rotator cuff is either partially repaired or secured to the tendon transfer.
- Sutures attached to the Achilles tendon allograft are passed into the joint.
- The graft is moved back and forth to ensure adequate opening of the passageway.
- The graft along with the LT tendon is passed below the deltoid (the muscle that covers your shoulder) with adequate tension to secure the tendon.
- The incision is closed in a layered fashion with absorbable sutures.
As you recover from the procedure, you must protect the reconstruction while the tendon heals. Therefore, you are required to wear a sling and keep your shoulder immobilised.
Further, you should strictly avoid using your arm for the first 4 to 6 weeks.
Recovery from lower trapezius tendon transfer is a slow process and you must ensure you follow the prescribed rehabilitation protocol for strengthening muscles and improving range of motion. Strict adherence to prescribed medications, diet, incision site care, and follow-up instructions are strongly advised for a successful recovery.
Risks and Complications of Lower Trapezius Tendon Transfer
Lower trapezius tendon transfer is a relatively safe procedure; however, as with any surgery, there may be some risks and complications, such as:
- Problems related to anaesthesia
- Damage to nerves and blood vessels
- Persistent pain
- Need for further surgery
Benefits of Arthroscopic Lower Trapezius Tendon Transfer
Some of the benefits of performing the surgery using minimally invasive methods (arthroscopy) versus open technique include:
- Less postoperative pain
- Less infection risk
- Faster recovery
- Minimal scars
- Small surgical cuts
- Less blood loss
- Improved strength and range of motion