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Brachial Plexus Neck and Shoulder Injuries

The human body is very complex. Made up of hundreds of muscles, thousands of tendons, and billions of nerves, the body is a symphony of signals and communication between each of these individual parts. For the body to perform properly, each individual part must function flawlessly. This means that the body is susceptible to even the slightest disruption in communication between these parts. This is demonstrated when the body is subjected to a traumatic event that causes a disruption in the communication between our body parts. The force applied to the human body during something like a car accident or a fall is bound to affect at least one of the billions of parts of your body. One of the most common, yet least diagnosed, injuries that occurs as a result of a traumatic event is damage to the brachial plexus. These neck and shoulder injuries can be quite serious.

What is the Brachial Plexus?

The brachial plexus is formed from five nerves that originate in the spinal cord. The roots of the brachial plexus nerves begin at C4, C5, C6, C7, and T1 of the spine. As they move away from the spine, they become an intertwined network which moves across the upper chest to the armpit area. These nerves ultimately form all the other nerves that control movement and sensation in the upper limbs, including the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand. The brachial plexus is the same on both the left and right side of the body.

How Does a Brachial Plexus Injury Occur?

A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are stretched, compressed, or in the most serious cases, ripped apart or torn away from the spinal cord. Many events can cause a brachial plexus injury such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, and most commonly, motorcycle accidents. Injuries to the brachial plexus often occur during child birth as well. Damage to the brachial plexus often depends on how the arm and neck are affected during the traumatic event. The injury can usually be attributed to one of two situations: (1) when the angle between the shoulder and neck forcibly widens and (2) when the angle between the arm and chest wall forcibly widens.
Situations where the angle between the shoulder and the neck is forcibly widened often occur when a fall forces the shoulder down while the head is pushed in the opposite direction. This is common in car accidents, where the head is pushed to one side from the force of a collision and the shoulder is pulled on by a seatbelt in the opposite direction. In the case of child birth, a brachial plexus injury can occur if the infant’s head and neck are pulled to the side at the same time the shoulders pass through the birth canal, putting pressure on the shoulders in the opposite direction.

Scenarios where the angle between the arm and chest wall forcibly widens can occur in any number of scenarios. This is most common in falls where the individual lands on their side while their arm is extended above their head. The force from the impact essentially rips the nerves, resulting in severe damage to the brachial plexus. During child birth,  the infant may be delivered with their arm extended above their head or with their shoulder caught under the pelvis; this pulling on the arm combined with pressure on the chest wall is enough to stretch these

nerves and cause permanent damage.

Symptoms of a Brachial Plexus Injury

The symptoms of a brachial plexus injury vary depending upon the type and location of the injury. The most common symptoms include

  • weakness or numbness
  • loss of sensation
  • loss of movement
  • pain in injured area.

Additionally, the pain resulting from a brachial plexus injury is often described as a burning sensation, or like pins and needles are being pushed against the skin.

Diagnosis of Brachial Plexus Injury

Due to the complex spectrum of brachial plexus injuries, a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the exact nature of injury in each patient is required for proper management. Multiple modalities are utilized to diagnose a brachial plexus injury including: (1) clinical examination, (2) electro diagnostic studies, and (3) imaging studies such as a CT or MRI. Because of the complexity of the brachial plexus and the numerous parts of the body it affects, injuries can be easily misdiagnosed. It is not uncommon for injuries to be attributed to an individual muscle or tendon controlled by the brachial plexus rather than diagnosing the root of the problem which is the brachial plexus itself.

If you believe you or a loved one have experienced a brachial plexus injury, it is best to seek medical advice in order to receive a proper diagnosis. If you believe this injury occurred as the result of the negligence of an individual, the attorneys at Dolman Law Group are available to help you fight against the negligent party responsible for the damages they caused and to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

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Image Sources:

By English: Nicholas Zaorsky, M.D. (English: Nicholas Zaorsky, M.D.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons