What are Brachial Plexus Injuries?
In order to understand brachial plexus injuries, we have to first identify what the brachial plexus is. As our nerves exit the spinal canal at our neck level, several of them (primarily C5-T1) begin to cross over and share pathways with their neighboring nerves. Smaller nerves that eventually continue down to the shoulder and the arm break off of and traverse to their final destination. The area where the nerves intertwine is called the brachial plexus.
Brachial plexus injuries generally present as specific pain, numbness, or weakness in one arm and/or shoulder. These injuries can occur from a wide variety of mechanisms and include compression of the nerve (e.g. tumor), excessive (e.g. during childbirth), spontaneous (e.g. diabetic changes), and several others. Diagnosis of brachial plexus injuries may require multiple tests including imaging (MRI), nerve tests (EMG), and physical exam.
Treatment of brachial plexus injuries usually is dependent on the mechanism of injury. In some cases, the symptoms may resolve spontaneously over the course of time. Medication and therapy (both physical and occupational) may help mitigate symptoms. Surgical intervention is often needed if there is concern that the nerve will not be able to heal on its own.