Brachial Plexus Injuries

Doctors define the brachial plexus as the network of nerves that give movement and feeling in the arms and hands. A serious brachial plexus injury involves sudden damage to these nerves and can lead to weakness, loss of feeling, and/or loss of movement in the shoulders, arms, or hands.

The brachial plexus starts at the neck and crosses the upper chest to the underarm. Injury to this network of nerves often occurs when the arm is forcibly pulled or stretched.

Mild brachial plexus injuries can heal without treatment. More severe injuries may require surgery to regain function of the arm or hand.

What are the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury?

Depending on the severity and location of the injury, the symptoms can vary greatly. Oftentimes, a brachial plexus injury only affects one arm.

Less-severe injuries

Minor damage often occurs during contact sports, such as football, soccer, or wrestling, when the brachial plexus nerves get stretched or compressed. These are called stingers or burners. Below are the symptoms of stingers or burners:

  • An electric shock-type sensation or a burning sensation shoots down the arm
  • Numbness and weakness in the arm

These symptoms usually last only a few seconds or minutes, however, they may linger for days or longer.

More-severe injuries

More-severe symptoms result from injuries that seriously hurt or even tear or rupture the nerves. The most serious brachial plexus injury occurs when the nerve root is torn from the spinal cord.

Signs and symptoms of more-severe injuries may include:

  • Weakness or inability to use certain muscles in the hand, arm, or shoulder
  • Complete lack of movement and feeling in the arm, including the shoulder and hand
  • Severe pain

What causes brachial plexus injuries?

When the shoulder goes down while the neck stretches up and away from the injured shoulder, damage occurs in the upper nerves that make up the brachial plexus. When the arm goes above the head with force, the lower nerves are more likely to be injured.

These injuries can occur in several ways, including:

  • Contact sports: Many athletes of contact sports like football or soccer experience burners or stingers. This can occur when the nerves in the brachial plexus get stretched beyond their limit during collisions with other players.
  • Difficult births: Newborns can sustain brachial plexus injuries associated with high birth weight, breech presentation, or prolonged labor. An increased risk of brachial plexus palsy occurs if an infant’s shoulders get wedged within the birth canal. Most often, the upper nerves are injured, a condition called Erb’s palsy.
  • Trauma: Traumas including motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, falls, or bullet wounds 
  • Tumors and cancer treatments: Tumors may start to grow in or along the brachial plexus due to radiation treatment to the chest or neck. These tumors put pressure on the brachial plexus or spread to the nerves. Radiation treatment to the chest may cause damage to the brachial plexus.

How are brachial plexus injuries treated?

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists diagnose and treat patients with medical problems or injuries that limit their ability to participate in their daily lives. Patients will usually see a physical therapist after a referral by their primary physician. Physical therapists work with patients who have experienced an injury or disease that has affected their movement and range of motion.

At Nextgen Pain & Injury Clinic, our team of licensed physical therapists and rehabilitation experts will focus on your total health and wellness. Regardless of the cause or source of your pain, we will develop a treatment plan with your unique issues in mind.

Our treatment philosophy emphasizes evidence-based manual and therapeutic exercise techniques tailored toward efficiently returning patients, athletes, and employees to their pre-injury status. We treat orthopedic and sports injuries and provide spinal rehabilitation, post-surgical rehabilitation, and industrial rehabilitation. Personalized physical therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions.

  • Chronic and acute medical problems
  • Knee pain
  • Back pain
  • Leg Pain
  • Ankle pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Chronic medical problems
  • Neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries

Our mission is to help patients to return to work, improve their quality of life, reduce dependence on medication and healthcare providers, and avoid persistent injuries.

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