Damage to the upper nerves that make up the brachial plexus tends to occur when your shoulder is forced down while your neck stretches up and away from the injured shoulder. The lower nerves are more likely to be injured when your arm is forced above your head. These injuries can occur in several ways, including:
May. 01, 2014
- Contact sports. Many football players experience burners or stingers, which can occur when the nerves in the brachial plexus get stretched beyond their limit during collisions with other players.
Difficult births. Newborns can sustain brachial plexus injuries when there are problems during birth, such as a breech presentation or prolonged labor.
If an infant's shoulders get wedged within the birth canal, the force used to pull the baby free also can damage the nerves in the brachial plexus. Most often, the upper nerves are injured, a condition called Erb's palsy. Total brachial plexus birth palsy occurs when both the upper and lower nerves are damaged.
- Trauma. Several types of trauma including motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, falls, animal bites or bullet wounds can result in brachial plexus injuries.
- Inflammation. Inflammation may cause damage to the brachial plexus. A rare condition known as Parsonage-Turner syndrome (brachial plexitis) causes brachial plexus inflammation with no apparent shoulder injury.
- Tumors. Noncancerous (benign) or cancerous tumors can put pressure on the brachial plexus or spread to the nerves, causing damage to the brachial plexus.
- Radiation treatment. Radiation treatment may cause damage to the brachial plexus.
- NINDS brachial plexus injuries information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brachial_plexus/brachial_plexus.htm. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Erb's palsy (brachial plexus birth palsy). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00077. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Brachial plexus. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/Public/HandConditions/Pages/BrachialPlexus.aspx. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Bromberg MB. Brachial plexus syndromes. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Burners and stingers. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00027. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
- Neurological diagnostic tests and procedures. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/misc/diagnostic_tests.htm. Accessed Sept. 5, 2013.
- Giuffre JL, et al. Current concepts of the treatment of adult brachial plexus injuries. The Journal of Hand Surgery. 2010;35:678.
- Yang LJ, et al. A systematic review of nerve transfer and nerve repair for the treatment of adult upper brachial plexus injury. Neurosurgery. 2012;71:417.
- Neuropathic pain. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/pain/neuropathic_pain.html?qt=neuropathic%20pain&alt=sh. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Pain: hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/detail_chronic_pain.htm. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Cook AJ. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 4, 2013.
- Spinner RJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 26, 2013.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 2, 2014.
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