Brachial Plexopathy Symptoms
Symptoms of brachial plexus injury, and compression, include neck pain, arm, shoulder, and chest. Weakness in the muscles in this area, along with numbness, and possible problems with circulation can also occur and is sometimes referred to as Erb’s Palsy in infants. Patients with acute brachial plexus neurits usually have a sudden onset of acute or subacute pain with significant weakness of the upper arm and shoulder. These patients are commonly misdiagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, which can delay treatment and endanger recovery. Unnecessary surgery on cervical spondylosis may also occur that does nothing to treat the pain of brachial plexopathy. Patients with cervical radiculopathy usually have simultaneous pain and weakness, whereas brachial plexus neuropathy presents as pain followed by weakness in most cases.
The key signifiers for brachial plexopathy include:
- Acute burning pain in the arm, neck, or shoulder with no apparent cause, often waking a patient whilst asleep
- The dissipation of this pain and a subsequent weakness to the shoulder, arms and hand with muscle wasting and flaccidity
- Numbness in the shoulder, arm, and/or hand
- Tingling, burning pain, and paraesthesias along the nerves of the brachial plexus through the arm
Diagnosing Brachial Plexus Injuries
The problem may be exacerbated if the arm is raised as this can cause further compression of the brachial plexus. A physician can conduct a simple strength test by getting the patient to squeeze their hands thereby allowing the doctor to observe any difference in the grip of each of the patient’s hands, and also any differences in coldness. Additional testing using MRI scans, or CT scans can highlight anatomical, or pathological problems with the brachial plexus, such as rib compression, inflammation, or other issue impairing nerve function and circulation. Denervation of the area can also show up in an MRI scan just days after the onset of symptoms. An electromyelogram or nerve conduction test may also be carried out in order to assess the level of electrical nerve activity in the brachial plexus. Three to four weeks after the onset of symptoms these nerve tests may be able to reveal a lesion and clarify the location of the nerves causing the problem. A nerve biopsy may be done to ascertain any specific pathology in the nervous system.
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Last Updated: 12/31/2010