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What Is a Brachial Plexus Injury?

A brachial plexus injury affects a group of nerves that run from the neck through the upper chest to the armpit. These nerves transmit signals from the spinal cord to control movement and sensation in the shoulder, arm and hand. The brachial plexus can become compressed, stretched or separated from the spinal cord through trauma, such as a car accident or sports-related impact, or if the arm is forcibly pulled or stretched. The resulting nerve damage can impair the function of the shoulder, arm and hand.

What happens when the brachial plexus is damaged?

The symptoms of a brachial plexus injury can vary widely based on the precise location and extent of the damage. For instance, a minor injury (often referred to informally as a “burner” or “stinger”) may produce:

  • Burning or electrical sensations that travel down one arm
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days.

On the other hand, a more extensive injury may cause a nerve to tear or rupture. The most serious type of brachial plexus injury, which is known as an avulsion, occurs when a nerve root is torn away from the spinal cord. These injuries may produce:

  • Severe pain
  • A loss of muscle control in the shoulder, arm or hand
  • A complete loss of feeling and movement in the shoulder, arm and hand

Does a brachial plexus injury always require treatment?

If the brachial plexus is stretched but not torn, the injury may heal on its own without medical treatment. However, a surgical procedure may be required to repair more extensive brachial plexus injuries. To help ensure the best possible outcome, surgery should be performed no later than six months after the injury occurs. Because nerve tissue grows very slowly, it can take up to several years to realize the final surgical outcome. Whether or not surgery is performed, physical therapy can be helpful for maintaining muscle strength and flexibility and preventing joint stiffness as the injury heals.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, we offer a variety of treatments for brachial plexus injuries. You’re encouraged to make an appointment with our experienced orthopedic specialists at your convenience. With three full-service locations and a collaborative team of medical experts serving the entire Houston metro area, we can make it easy for you to receive the individualized medical care that you need and deserve.