A network of nerves branching from the spinal cord to the shoulders, arms, and hands, the brachial plexus sends signals from the brain to the parts of the body. Injuries from car accidents, sporting events, or even childbirth can cause damaged or injury to the brachial plexus. Injuries to the brachial plexus may cause minor symptoms or even cause paralysis to the arm.
Symptoms of a brachial plexus injury
When initially suffering from an injury to the brachial plexus, the injury may seem minor. Due to the complexity of the brachial plexus, when suspecting an injury to the brachial plexus patients should always seek medical attention from a medical professional including a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, orthopedic specialist, or neurologist.
Depending on the area of the brachial plexus affected and the severity of the injury, symptoms may vary. Minor injuries often compress and/or stretch the nerves of the brachial plexus. Minor injuries often occur from sporting events and competitions that involve contact between people. Common symptoms from minor injuries, called stingers and burners, include numbness and weakness of the affected arm and/or a burning or electric shock sensation. Due to the location of the brachial plexus, the pain often radiates or shoots down the arm.
For more severe injuries, the nerves of the brachial plexus may rupture or tear. The worst possible injury to the brachial plexus occurs when the nerve root tears from the spinal cord. Serious injuries to the brachial plexus often arise from car accidents or instances of extreme trauma. Symptoms of severe injuries to the brachial plexus include inability to use the shoulder, arm, or hand, paralysis of the shoulder, arm, or hand, and/or excruciating pain.
If a severe injury to the brachial plexus goes untreated, long lasting or permanent damage may occur. Long lasting or permanent damage includes joint pain and stiffness, numbness to the affected limb, muscle atrophy, or even permanent paralysis.
Diagnosing and Treating Brachial Plexus Injuries
To diagnose an injury to the brachial plexus, a doctor first conducts a physical examination. Next, the doctor conducts diagnostic testing. Typically to diagnose a nerve injury, a physician uses multiple types of diagnostics. To diagnose a brachial plexus injury, the physician often uses an X-Ray, Electromyography, nerve conduction study, Magnetic resonance imaging, and/or a computerized tomography myelography.
Treatment of brachial plexus injuries depends on the severity of the injury. Some injuries may not need any treatment while others require physical therapy or surgical intervention. The main surgeries associated with treating injuries to the brachial plexus include muscle transfers, nerve transfers, nerve grafts, and neurolysis surgery.