Brachial Plexus Injury
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and hand. Brachial plexus injuries occur when these nerves are stretched, compressed, or torn. A minor injury may heal without treatment, but a severe injury can cause paralysis in the arm.
Types of brachial plexus injuries include:
- Avulsion is an injury where the nerve root is severed from the spinal cord.
- Rupture is an injury where the nerve is torn but not at the spinal cord.
- Neuropraxia is an injury where the nerve is stretched or compressed.
- Neuroma involves scar tissue forming around and compressing the damaged nerve.
Who gets brachial plexus injuries?
Anyone can have a brachial plexus injury. These injuries can occur at birth, or later in life as a result of trauma, tumors, or inflammation.
How are brachial plexus injuries diagnosed?
The following tests may be used to diagnose a brachial plexus injury:
- CT myelography
- Nerve conduction studies
Symptoms of a brachial plexus injury may include:
- Numbness, weakness, or paralysis of an arm
- Burning or shock-like pain down an arm
- Weakness in the hand, arm, or shoulder muscles
These symptoms are shared with other conditions, so their presence alone does not mean you have a brachial plexus injury. Contact a medical professional if you are experiencing any symptoms.
A minor brachial plexus injury may heal on its own. Many babies injured during birth improve or recover within a few months.
Surgical intervention may be necessary for more severe injuries. Surgical treatments include:
- Nerve graft: In this procedure, the damaged part of the brachial plexus is removed and replaced with sections of nerves from other parts of the body.
- Nerve transfer: When the nerve root is severed from the spinal cord, a less important nerve that is still attached to the spinal cord is connected to the severed nerve.
- Muscle transfer: A less important muscle from another part of the body is transferred to the arm, and nerves and blood vessels supplying the muscle are reconnected.
Physical therapy or pain medication may also be recommended.
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- Date of last review: December 7, 2016