Brachial plexopathy is a type of peripheral neuropathy. It happens when there is some type of injury to the brachial plexus, which is the collection of nerves as they meet between the neck and the shoulder (on each side).
The brachial plexus includes the axillary nerve, ulnar nerve, median nerve, radial nerve, and musculocutaneous nerve. They go from the cervicothoracic spinal cord in the neck to the axilla in the armpit, and from there they serve the autonomic (involuntary), sensory, and motor functions to the arms.
Damage to the brachial plexus normally occurs as a direct injury to these nerves. This can happen to a baby during childbirth (causing Erb’s palsy), it can happen due to pressure created by a tumor, or damage can be caused by radiation treatments for cancer. It can create painful nerve pressure in the neck.
Symptoms of Brachial Plexopathy
The symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, depending on the severity and location of the injured or pinched nerve. The most typical symptom is called a stinger or a burner during a full-contact sport. It can feel like a shock or a burning sensation, or numbness and weakness in the arm.
The symptoms may last a few days or just a few minutes. Either way, they can result in the loss of ability to use certain muscles or to make certain motions in the hand, shoulder, or arm.
Brachial plexopathy can also cause the complete inability to move the arm at all. If severe pain, numbness, or weakness is running down either arm, seek medical attention immediately.
Possible Causes of This Nerve Condition
The motion that most frequently causes brachial plexopathy is when the shoulder is pushed downward while the neck and head are forced upward, away from the shoulder. This causes one or more of the nerves to be torn.
Tumors that grow around the brachial plexus and put pressure on the nerve can cause this condition. Participation in full-contact sports, especially high-impact sports, are also at a heightened risk of brachial plexopathy.
Can Brachial Plexopathy Heal?
In most cases in children and adults, brachial plexopathy heals with very little permanent damage. However, during the healing process, the patient may experience stiff joints, pain, numbness, and atrophied muscles. Because nerves heal very slowly, the healing will depend on the severity of the injury and the age and health of the patient.
During the healing process, engaging in daily range-of-motion exercises can help prevent joint stiffening. Wearing protective padding over the shoulder area may be required in the case of an athletic injury, but athletes usually make a full recovery.
Testing and Treatment for Brachial Plexopathy
Nerve conduction studies are usually involved in testing for this condition. Other tests may include an MRI or a CT scan.
If the scans show that the nerve has only been stretched and not torn, it will usually heal on its own without additional treatment. If physical therapy is employed but does not help, surgery is possible to repair the nerve.
Shoulder Surgeons in Maryland
If you have any musculoskeletal issues and are in the Maryland area, contact our experienced medical team at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder. We have convenient locations in Baltimore and across the state.
Call us today at (410) 296-6232 or request an appointment online, and have that painful hand, arm or shoulder area fixed once and for all.