Brachial Plexus Injuries

An injury to the brachial plexus, the network of nerves that conduct signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand, can lead to a loss of function in the shoulder, arm or wrist. Most of the time, the injury will not heal on its own and will require surgery. Despite surgery, some injuries may not ever heal.

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that originate in the neck and travel down the arm. These nerves control the muscles in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and provide feeling in the arm.

“This is an injury sustained to the neck and shoulder area that often times can leave a patient debilitated in their function of that limb,” says Michael D. Riggenbach, M.D. “They may lose complete function of their arm wrist and shoulder or only certain parts of that limb.”

These nerves can become damaged by stretching, pressure,cutting, blunt trauma, compression or inflammatory processes.

Symptoms of brachial plexus injury include:

  • A limp or paralyzed arm
  • Lack of muscle control in the arm, hand or wrist
  • Lack of feeling or sensation in the arm or hand

What are Treatment Options for Brachial Plexus Injuries?

Some brachial plexus injuries may be too severe to recover from and often times a patient cannot recover from this injury on their own. To determine if a patient’s injury can be treated, a surgeon will perform brachial plexus surgery.

“By performing brachial plexus surgery, you explore that area and determine what nerves are injured and either repair the nerves, perform a nerve grafting procedure or determine that another procedure is necessary if that the damage is too extensive,” says Dr. Riggenbach.

A physician won’t be able to tell a patient what the function in their affected limb may be until surgery and rehabilitation are complete. Despite this, brachial plexus surgery may be able to help a patient regain full function of their affected limb.

“There are good possibilities to restore some level of function — sometimes high level of function,” says Dr. Riggenbach. “It all depends on the injury, patient, and surgeon’s ability to correct the problem.”