OHSU

Brachial Plexus Injury

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that sends signals from your spine to your shoulder, arm and hand. Brachial plexus injuries are caused by damage to these nerves.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

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

Diagnosis

OHSU's Nerve Center offers a wide range of neurodiagnostic (nerve diagnosis) services to evaluate your anatomy (structure of your body) and see if your brain, spinal cord, muscles, nerves and blood flow are functioning properly.

Our goal is to offer reliable and complete testing to help diagnose, manage and track your health condition. Learn more about diagnostic procedures

Causes

Brachial plexus injuries can be caused by:

  • Shoulder trauma, tumors or inflammation (swelling)
  • Parsonage-Turner syndrome or brachial plexitis. This rare condition causes inflammation of the brachial plexus without any obvious shoulder injury. The syndrome can begin with severe shoulder or arm pain followed by weakness and numbness.

Brachial plexus injuries can happen during birth if the baby's shoulder is stretched as the baby passes through the birth canal.

We determine how serious a brachial plexus injury is based on the type of damage to the nerves. The most severe type, avulsion, is caused when a nerve root is severed or cut from your spinal cord. 

There is also an incomplete form of avulsion. With this type, only part of your nerve is damaged, which leaves some opportunity for the nerve to slowly recover function.

Treatment

Some brachial plexus injuries may heal without treatment. Many children who are injured during birth improve or recover by 3 to 4 months of age. Treatment for brachial plexus injuries includes physical therapy and sometimes surgery.

Prognosis

The site and type of brachial plexus injury determines the prognosis (predicted outcome). For avulsion and rupture injuries, there is no potential for recovery unless doctors surgically reconnect the nerves shortly after the injury. 

The potential for recovery varies for neuroma and neuropraxia injuries. Most individuals with neuropraxia injuries recover spontaneously with a 90-100 percent return of function (ability to do daily activities normally as you did before the injury).