Brachial Plexus Injuries: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
August 28, 2021
The brachial plexus is a complex group of nerves in the shoulder that carry sensory and movement-based signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand. People sustain brachial plexus injuries when the nerves are compressed, stretched, or even ripped apart or pulled away from the spine. While there are numerous causes for brachial plexus injuries, some of the most common ones include birth injuries and motor vehicle accidents.
Brachial plexus injuries can range from mild to severe; in some cases, people recover in weeks or months while in others, the injuries are permanent. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most severe brachial injuries, like ones that tear or pull the nerve bundle away from the spinal cord, can lead to the inability to use certain muscles in the hand, arm or shoulder or even a complete lack of movement and feel in the arm, including the shoulder and the hand. Children and adults with severe brachial plexus damage also tend to experience high levels of physical pain associated with their injuries.
Although some brachial plexus injuries heal over time, others cause long-lasting complications for patients, such as:
- Stiff joints that make movement difficult
- Numbness or loss of feeling in the arm or hand. This symptom can increase a person’s risk for burning or injury themselves without being aware of it
- Muscle atrophy that results from the slow re-growth of the brachial plexus nerves. As the nerve system re-grows during the healing and treatment processes, the muscles in the affected area may break down from lack of use
Brachial stretch injuries in newborns are typically linked to a difficult delivery, such as with a prolonged labor, a breech presentation, or a large baby. The chances of a newborn sustaining brachial plexus palsy also increases when the baby’s shoulders get stuck inside the birth canal. This type of birth injury in children is sometimes the result of a healthcare professional forcefully pulling on the child, which stretches the baby’s neck to one side and causes damage to the brachial plexus nerve bundle. Physical trauma is another top contender for causes behind brachial plexus injuries. For example, adults are most likely to sustain brachial plexus injuries associated with trauma from car accidents, motorcycle collisions, falls, and contact sports.
Symptoms of brachial plexus injuries can be different for children and adults, since infants and young children may not be able to communicate the physical sensations they are experiencing. Adults with brachial plexus injuries usually experience numbness or loss of feeling in the hand or arm, an inability to control or move the shoulder, arm, wrist, or hand, an arm that hangs limply, or burning, stinging, and severe and sudden pain in the shoulder or arm. In children, the signs and symptoms of brachial plexus injuries can include:
- Not moving the affected arm
- Holding the affected arm to one side, with the elbow straight and the forearm and hand turned in towards the body
- Older children may complain of weakness or a lack of movement of the shoulder, arm, or hand. Like adults, they too may experience numbness or tingling of the arm, hand, wrist, or shoulder
While lots of brachial plexus injuries cannot be prevented, there are steps that people can take for themselves or their children to reduce risk factors for complications once an injury has taken place. The Mayo Clinic recommends:
- For adults who have lost temporary use of their hand and arm: daily range of motion exercises and various physical therapies to aid with joint stiffness. Try to avoid burns and cuts since they may be more difficult for you to feel
- For children: exercise your child’s joints and functioning muscles every day. Doing this for children with brachial plexus injuries can ward off permanent stiffness and help their muscles grow stronger and healthier.
Filing a Brachial Plexus Injury Lawsuit
Despite the fact that some brachial plexus injuries are unavoidable, others are most certainly not. Brachial plexus injuries are a leading cause of medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States. For infants, one of the most common causes behind these injuries is shoulder dystocia, or when the baby’s shoulder gets caught underneath his or her mother’s pubic bone. If a physician pulls the baby too hard or incorrectly in order to dislodge his or her shoulder, the baby can sustain severe nerve damage. If you baby experienced injuries during birth that resulted from a physician or healthcare provider’s negligence, you may want to consider filing a medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical provider causes injury to a patient through a negligent act or omission.
If you sustained a brachial plexus injury in another type of incident, like a motor vehicle accident, our attorneys can also help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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Galfand Berger LLP has offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.