Category : Brachial Plexus

Brachial Plexus Nerves Shoulder

Ask a Doctor: Brachial Plexus Injuries

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.

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Brachial Plexus Hand Nerves Shoulder

What is a Brachial Plexus Injury?

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that start in the spinal cord in the neck and travel down the arm. These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand, as well as provide feeling in the arm. If you have a brachial plexus injury, it means you have damaged a nerve.

Nerve injuries can be very serious, as they can stop signals to and from the brain. Nerves can be damaged by stretching, pressure or cutting. Stretching can occur when the head and neck are forced away from the shoulder, such as during a motorcycle or car accident. Pressure could occur if the brachial plexus is crushed, which can happen during a fracture or dislocation. You will know if you have a nerve injury, as opposed to just a broken bone or other injury, if you’ve lost feeling in your arm.

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Anatomy Brachial Plexus Nerves Shoulder

Anatomy 101: Brachial Plexus

brachial-plexus

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that stem from the spinal cord in the neck and travel all the way down the arm. These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. They also provide feeling in the arm.

It starts with the five “roots” at the neck. The second level is called “trunks,” which continue toward the shoulder then divide into the third layer of two nerves called the anterior division and the posterior division. The nerves in the fourth layer are called “cords,” and the final layer is comprised of the “branches” that feed the shoulder and arm. See the image below for details.

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