The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that send signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand. A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are stretched, pressed together, or in the most serious cases, torn apart from the spinal cord. There are many reasons for this type of injury, a few are listed below:
- Minor brachial plexus injuries: These type of injuries are known as stingers or burners and can most likely occur when an individual comes into contact with sports such as football and baseball
- Brachial plexus injuries in infants: These type of injuries are most likely sustained and most likely found in infants during birth
- Major brachial plexus injuries: These type of injuries can arise from car or motorcycle accidents, leaving the arm with restricted or no movement and sensation.
Signs and symptoms of a brachial plexus injury can vary depending on the severity of an individual’s condition and the location of the injury. Usually, only one arm is affected.
Less severe injuries:
- Feeling of numbness and weakness in the arm
- Electric shock feeling or stinging pain shooting down the arm
- Restricted or loss of movement of certain muscles in the hand, arm or shoulder
- Loss of movement in the arm, including the shoulder and hand
- Sharp pain
Brachial plexus injuries can cause permanent weakness or disability. Medical care is recommened if the following occurs:
- Recurrent minor brachial plexus injuries
- Weakness in your hand or arm
- Complete paralysis of the upper extremity following trauma
- Neck pain
- Symptoms in both arms
- Symptoms in upper and lower limbs
Brachial plexus injuries most likely occur when there is damage to the upper nerves that make up the brachial plexus. The shoulder is pressed down and the neck stretches up and away from the injured shoulder. The lower nerves are more likely to be injured when the arm is forced above the head. These injuries can occur in several ways, including:
- Contact Sports such as football and wrestling
- Difficult births (wedging within the birth canal)
- Trauma from motor vehicle accidents, falls or bullet wounds
- Parsonage-Turner syndrome: Inflammation resulting in paralysis of some muscles of the arm.
- The growth of noncancerous or cancerous tumors
- Radiation treatment
Risk factors of brachial plexus injury are most common when participating in contact sports such football and wrestling, or being involved in high-speed accidents.
Over a certain period of time depending on the individual’s condition, brachial plexus injuries can heal with no lasting damages. However, there are certain injuries which can cause temporary or permanent problems: These include:
- Stiff Joints: Difficulty in moving the hand or arm
- Pain: Resulting from nerve damage
- Loss of feeling: Risk of burning or injuring oneself without knowing it.
- Muscle atrophy: The slow growth of nerves can take several years to heal after an injury and during that time the lack of use of affected muscles can cause them to break down.
- Permanent disability: Ranging from weakness in the hand, shoulder or arm to paralysis.