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NINDS Brachial Plexus Injuries Information Page

Synonym(s):   Erb's Palsy

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What are Brachial Plexus Injuries?

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and hand. Brachial plexus injuries are caused by damage to those nerves. Symptoms may include a limp or paralyzed arm; lack of muscle control in the arm, hand, or wrist; and a lack of feeling or sensation in the arm or hand.   Brachial plexus injuries can occur as a result of shoulder trauma, tumors, or inflammation.  There is a rare syndrome called Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, or brachial plexitis, which causes inflammation of the brachial plexus without any obvious shoulder injury.  This syndrome can begin with severe shoulder or arm pain followed by weakness and numbness. In infants, brachial plexus injuries may happen during birth if the baby’s shoulder is stretched during passage in the birth canal (see Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries).   

The severity of a brachial plexus injury is determined by the type of damage done to the nerves.  The most severe type, avulsion, is caused when the nerve root is severed or cut from the spinal cord.  There is also an incomplete form of avulsion in which part of the nerve is damaged and which leaves some opportunity for the nerve to slowly recover function.   Neuropraxia, or stretch injury, is the mildest type of injury   Neuropraxia damages the protective covering of the nerve, which causes problems with nerve signal conduction, but does not always damage the nerve underneath.

Is there any treatment?

Some brachial plexus injuries may heal without treatment. Many children who are injured during birth improve or recover by 3 to 4 months of age. Treatment for brachial plexus injuries includes physical therapy and, in some cases, surgery.

What is the prognosis?

The site and type of brachial plexus injury determines the prognosis. For avulsion and rupture injuries, there is no potential for recovery unless surgical reconnection is made in a timely manner. The potential for recovery varies for neuroma and neuropraxia injuries. Most individuals with neuropraxia injuries recover spontaneously with a 90-100% return of function.

What research is being done?

The NINDS conducts and supports research on injuries to the nervous system such as brachial plexus injuries. Much of this research is aimed at finding ways to prevent and treat these disorders.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Brachial Plexus Injuries Clinical Trials

Organizations

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National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
8201 Corporate Drive
Suite 600
Landover, MD   20785
naricinfo@heitechservices.com
http://www.naric.com
Tel: 301-459-5900/301-459-5984 (TTY) 800-346-2742
Fax: 301-562-2401

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

United Brachial Plexus Network
1610 Kent Street
Kent, OH   44240
info@ubpn.org
http://www.ubpn.org
Tel: 866-877-7004
Fax: 866-877-7004

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC   20202-7100
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/nidrr
Tel: 202-245-7460 202-245-7316 (TTY)



Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated February 14, 2014