These injuries occur when the network of nerves which send signals from the spine to the shoulder, hand and arm is damaged. This may be as a result of shoulder trauma, tumours or inflammation and can result in paralysis or lack of muscle control or feeling.
The most severe brachial plexus injuries (avulsion) are often seen in motorcyclists after a road traffic accident when the nerve is torn from the spine but the most common is Neuropraxia or ‘stretch’ where the nerve is damaged but not torn. Brachial plexus injuries can also be caused during a birth if the baby’s shoulder is stretched during its passage down the birth canal – this is known as Erb’s Palsy (Erb-Duchenne Palsy).
Although many brachial plexus injuries may heal without treatment (or improve with age in the case of infants) for most injuries, physical therapy or surgery will be necessary. Unfortunately, for the most severe injuries, there may be little or no chance of a full recovery.