Brachial Plexus Injury: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Aug 29, 2022

Brachial Plexus is the part of the peripheral nervous system responsible for controlling the movement in your arm, shoulder, and hand. It is a bundle of nerves that stems from the nerves root in the neck region (cervical) just above the torso and extends down to your arms, and hands. An injury to this part is known as Brachial Plexus injury which can result in serious medical conditions.

In the following paragraphs, you will learn about different types of Brachial Plexus Injuries, their causes, symptoms, and treatments. Reading this article will help you better understand if you are suffering from a Brachial Plexus Injury or if it is just a minor muscle spasm.

Types of Brachial Plexus Injury

3D model of human skeleton showing the area affected with brachial plexus injury

An injury to Brachial Plexus can be due to nerve compression or complete rupture depending upon the nature of the injury.

Overstretching of Nerves

Stretching of nerves beyond a safe point is known as Neuropraxia and it is divided into two categories;
Compression Neuropraxia - Nerves in Brachial Plexus can get compressed due to abnormal rotation of the head resulting in pain and discomfort. It is more common in old-aged people.
Traction Neuropraxia - Traction occurs when a nerve in Brachial Plexus is pulled down due to the widening of the shoulder or the neck. This type is less common and is more likely to be found in young and adolescents.
The pain due to overstretched or nerve traction is also known as “stinger” and “burner” as patients feel a stinging or burning sensation.

Rupturing of Nerves

In case of severe injury, the nerves in the shoulder can also get ruptured or torn. It results in partial or permanent damage to the shoulder resulting in weakness of the arm, shoulder, and hand. This condition is more serious and painful and is often treated with surgery.

Causes of Brachial Plexus Injury

There can be several causes of injury to Brachial Plexus including;

Dystocia (Difficult Birth) - Difficult births are one of the major causes of Brachial Plexus Injury in newborns. A condition called Brachial Plexus Palsy occurs when a child’s shoulder gets squeezed in the birth canal during delivery resulting in the paralysis of the shoulder or arm.
Sports Injuries - Contact sports like football, martial arts, wrestling, boxing, etc. can cause Brachial Plexus Injury. People who participate in such activities always run the risk of getting their nerves stretched or ruptured due to overextension or direct blows to the neck.
Vehicle Accidents - Motor accidents cause trauma resulting in the compression or rupturing of peripheral nerves.
Tumors - People who suffer from cancer grow tumors along their brachial plexus that put pressure on the nerves in the shoulder and around the neck. Tumors can also grow due to cancer-treating therapies used for checking the chest.

Symptoms of Brachial Plexus Injury

Following are some of the common symptoms of Brachial Plexus Injury;

  • Limping arm
  • Numbness in arms and hands
  • Burning or stinging sensation felt in arm or shoulder
  • In case of severe injuries, patients experience a complete loss of control over the shoulder, arm, hand, or wrist movement

Treatment for Brachial Plexus Injury

Both surgical and nonsurgical methods are used for the treatment of Brachial Plexus Injury. Based on diagnosis, the doctor recommends one of the treatments.

Nonsurgical Treatments for Brachial Plexus Injuries

The objective of conservative/nonsurgical treatments is to restore the range of motion in arms, manage pain, and strengthen the muscles. There are several non-invasive techniques you can use to treat Brachial Plexus injury;

Physical Massage and Therapies - Certain exercises and massages can help you improve and restore the range of motion in your arms. Seeing a physiotherapist is recommended for relieving stiffness in muscles and joints.

Medication - If your doctor feels that your condition will improve with time on its own, he/she will put you on medication. It will help you manage the pain while you recover from brachial plexus injury.

Occupational Therapy - These therapies are more focused on modifying the way you perform your day-to-day activities like cooking, washing, working in the office, etc.

Using Casts and Splints - Based on the MRI or CT scans, the doctor diagnoses if the injury is severe or not. In case of mild injury, the doctor will have you get a customized cast to wear for a week or two and then do the scans again. Based on the progress, you will be given a new cast to wear and it will continue till the damaged nerves get in place.

Surgical Treatments for Brachial Plexus Injury

Conservative treatments are good for mild injuries only. In case of nerve rupture or avulsion, surgical treatments are the only available treatments. Depending upon the severity, nature, time since the injury has occurred, and other conditions, your doctor may carry out one of the following surgical procedures;
Nerve Transfer - In this procedure, the surgeon finds a nearby functioning nerve and connects it to the injured nerve providing a pathway for signals.
Nerve Graft - Just like in other grafting surgeries, a different part of the body is used to replacing the injured part. In a nerve graft, a nerve is taken for example from the legs and then the injured nerve is replaced with the nerve taken.
Transfer of tendon and muscle - It involves attaching a paralyzed tendon as a result of Brachial Plexus Injury to a functioning and expandable tendon. After the transfer is complete, the functioning tendon will restore the lost movement in the injured tendon over a certain period.
Nerve repair - This procedure involves reattaching torn or pulled nerves by sewing.

Consult a Neurosurgeon now! Problems like Brachial Plexus Injury are not to be taken lightly, we would recommend you to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon and discuss your ailment in detail. Here at Southern California Brain & Spine Surgery, Dr. Moksha Ranasinghe is available for patients suffering from brain and spine diseases.