The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and hand. Brachial plexus injuries are caused by damage to those nerves. Symptoms may include a limp or paralyzed arm; lack of muscle control in the arm, hand, or wrist; and a lack of feeling or sensation in the arm or hand. Brachial plexus injuries can occur as a result of shoulder trauma, tumors, or inflammation. There is a rare syndrome called Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, or brachial plexitis , which causes inflammation of the brachial plexus without any obvious shoulder injury. This syndrome can begin with severe shoulder or arm pain followed by weakness and numbness. In infants, brachial plexus injuries may happen during birth if the baby’s shoulder is stretched during passage in the birth canal (see Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries ).

Many brachial plexus injuries heal without specific treatment. Physical and occupational therapy may be useful in regaining strength and use of the arm and hand. Pain medicine may be needed to reduce pain and allow more use of the arm. With severe traumatic injuries, surgery may be indicated. Corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat inflammation in Parsonage-Turner syndrome but may not necessarily improve outcome.

The prognosis for a brachial plexus injury is dependent on the severity of the injury. Patients with stretch injuries have the best potential for recovery of normal arm and hand function. When the nerve is cut or severely torn, recovery is poor, although surgery may improve the outcome. Recovery in Parsonage-Turner syndrome depends on how severely inflammation has damaged the nerve.

Prepared by the National Institutes of Health