Brachial plexopathy occurs when there is damage to the brachial plexus - the bundle of nerve which exit your spinal cord at the base of the neck, between the C5 and T1 vertebrae.
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Pain may radiate down the arm
- Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
- Weakness in the arm and hand
Brachial plexopathy is a form of peripheral neuropathy caused by damage to the brachial plexus. This bundle of nerves exits the spinal column between the C5 and T1 vertebrae and then course down to the shoulder and several pass through the arm and into the hand.
Damage to the brachial plexus can be either traumatic through a sudden injury to the area, or more chronic, either through poor posture, carrying heavy bags or illnesses such as viruses or tumours in the area.
It may not always be clear what has caused the injury, especially in the case of viral illnesses.
Injury when carrying heavy bags over the shoulder, especially on one shoulder only, is sometimes called Backpack Palsy.
Brachial plexopathy can often be determined by a therapist using the history of the injury and symptoms present.
If further tests are required, these may include:
Treatment of brachial plexopathy should be aimed at correcting what has caused the problem, easing pain and enabling the patient to use their hand and arm as much as possible in the short-term.
In many cases, the symptoms are only temporary. In acute injuries, it may be swelling compressing the nerve, rather than injury to the nerve axon itself, which is causing the symptoms.
Depending on the cause of your injury and the extent of the problem, anti-convulsants and anti-depressants may be prescribed by your Doctor.
Physical therapy may be helpful for those who have postural problems contributing to the injury (such as desk workers and backpack palsy sufferers) or where a traumatic injury has caused muscle weakness / tightness.
Education regarding posture, workplace desk set-up and how to carry bags may be necessary.
Surgery is rarely recommended in such cases, although may be required for those with tumours or nerve compression.
In cases of nerve damage from a traumatic injury where a nerve is severed (partially or fully), the nerves will eventually repair themselves.
Human nerve growth rates can reach up to 5mm a day in large nerves (less in smaller ones). Electrical stimulation may promote the healing rate.