Hand surgeon Ryan Zimmerman, MD answers your questions about brachial plexus injuries.
What is the brachial plexus?
The brachial plexus is a complicated web of nerves located near the base of your neck and top of your shoulder. Typically, five nerves from the spinal cord at your neck weave together and eventually form the nerves for your shoulder, arm and hand.
How do brachial plexus injuries happen?
Brachial plexus injuries usually happen due to a stretching injury across the nerves. Most of the time, the nerves get stretched but stay connected. In severe cases, the nerves can tear. There are a few common ways for brachial plexus injuries to happen. In newborns, the injury can occur during birth, This is more likely if the baby gets stuck during delivery. During sports, tackles or collisions can cause a stretch injury. This is commonly referred to as a “stinger” or “burner.” In car or motorcycle accidents, the brachial plexus can be stretched by the force of the impact.
What are the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury?
Each injury is unique, and the symptoms are due to the exact nerves that get stretched and how badly they get stretched. Many patients with brachial plexus injuries describe “electrical” or shooting pains that can run all the way down to the hand. Numbness and weakness are also common. The numbness can range from a slight funny feeling to total numbness. Weakness can range from mild loss of strength to total inability to move the shoulder, elbow, or hand.