How Do You Diagnose a Brachial Plexus Injury?

How do you know if your brachial plexus has been injured? How can you tell if it’s torn? How is recovery from this injury done? Do these injuries take a long time to heal? These questions will be discussed in the article.

In the event that the nerves of a person’s arm or hand are damaged, there is potential for a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that originate in the spinal cord and extend down the arm to the hand. This injury can be caused by a variety of things, such as a car accident, falling from a height, or being struck in the arm.

While someone you know thinks they suffer brachial plexus injuries, they really can’t be sure until they have been diagnosed by a medical professional. There are several telltale signs and symptoms of this injury, which we’ll go over in this article.

How Is a Brachial Plexus Injury Diagnosed?

If you feel you may have a brachial plexus injury, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. To diagnose a brachial plexus injury, a health care provider will inspect the arm and hand. These diagnostic tests are often used: EMG, nerve conduction study, MRI and CT scans, and X-ray.


One of the most common methods is electromyography (EMG). This test uses needle electrodes to test nerve function and electrical activity. This includes a nerve conduction study and an electromyogram. This can help to determine if there has been damage to the nerves. These tests can be repeated several times per month to help your doctor monitor your progress.

Nerve Conduction Study

An alternate test commonly performed is the nerve conduction study (NCS). In this test, small electrodes are placed on the skin over the nerves. These electrodes measure the electrical impulses that travel along the nerves. This test can help to determine if there is damage to the insulation of the nerves, which can be a sign of a brachial plexus injury.

MRI and CT Scan

There are also some imaging tests that can be used to diagnose a brachial plexus injury. A number of these medical imaging tests are available, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT). Contrast dye can be injected into the nerves of the brachial plexus to help with imaging tests such as MRI and CT scans. These tests can help to identify any damage to the nerves or the surrounding tissue.


An X-ray taken on the neck and shoulder area can determine fractures and other injuries to bone and dense tissue around the nerves in the brachial plexus.

How Do You Know If Your Brachial Plexus Has Been Injured?

There are several signs and symptoms that can suggest you have a brachial plexus injury. One of the most common is pain. This pain can be anywhere from the shoulder to the hand. You may also experience weakness in the arm or hand, numbness or tingling, or a loss of sensation.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. It’s also important to note that these symptoms may not show up right away. The injury may not be detected until days, weeks, or even months after the accident.

Signs and Symptoms – Brachial Plexus Injury

Brachial plexus injury varies with signs and symptoms depending on where it is located. Most often, only one arm is affected.

Minor Brachial Plexus Injuries

When the brachial nerves of the brachial plexus nerves are stretched or compressed from athletic injuries during contact sports like football and wrestling, minor damage can often occur. These are known as stingers and burners. They can cause the following symptoms:

It’s like getting an electric shock or burning sensation in your arm.

Arm weakness and numbness

These symptoms typically last for a few minutes or seconds, but some people may feel them for several days or more.

Severe Brachial Plexus Injuries

Unlike mild brachial plexus injuries, more severe injuries that cause nerve damage, tear, or even rupture, can lead to more severe symptoms. Brachial plexus injuries that result in severe nerve root damage to the spinal cord are the most serious.

You may notice more severe signs and symptoms in patients that sustain brachial plexus injuries accompanied with a damaged nerve:

Incapacity to use or feel certain muscles in your arm, shoulder, or hand

Complete loss of feeling and movement in your arm, shoulder, and hand

Severe pain

How Can You Tell If The Brachial Plexus Nerve Is Torn?

If you think your brachial plexus nerve may have been torn, there are a few ways to tell. One way is to see if the arm is swollen or has bruises. You may also be able to see if the arm is in a different position than the other arm. If the person has a lot of pain, they will probably not be able to move the arm. Finally, you can do a test called electromyography (EMG) to see if there is any nerve damage.

What Can Cause A Brachial Plexus Injury?

When your shoulder is pulled down and your neck extends away from the injured shoulder, damage to the upper nerves of the brachial complexus tends to happen. Lower nerves are more susceptible to being injured if your arm is raised above your head. These injuries can happen in many ways, through contact sports, difficult births, trauma, and tumors and cancer treatments.

Contact sports – Burners or stingers are common in football players. This is when nerves in the brachial plexus get stretched too far during collisions between other players.

Difficult births – Brachial plexus injuries can be sustained by newborns. These injuries can be caused by high birth weight, prolonged labor, or breech presentation. Brachial plexus palsy is a condition in which the infant’s shoulders are trapped within the birth canal. Most commonly, injuries to the upper nerves occur, which is Erb’s syndrome.

Trauma – Brachial plexus injuries can be caused by a variety of traumas, including motor vehicle accidents and motorcycle accidents.

Tumors and treatments for cancer – Tumors may grow along or in the brachial veins, put pressure on the brachial nerves, or cause them to spread. The brachial plexus may be damaged by radiation treatments to the chest.

Who Is at Risk of Suffering a Brachial Plexus Injury?

People who engage in contact sports such as football or wrestling have an increased risk of injury to their brachial plexus, which also includes people involved in high-speed motor vehicle accidents. Some other risk factors also include difficult childbirth and accidents.

What Are the Complications of a Brachial Plexus Injury?

Many brachial plexus injuries can be healed with minimal to no lasting effects if treated properly. Some injuries can lead to permanent or temporary problems such as stiff joints, pain, numbness, muscle atrophy, and permanent disability.

Stiff joints. Paralysis can occur in your arm or hand. Your joints may become stiffer. Even if your limb is regained, this can make it difficult to move. Your doctor may recommend that you continue physical therapy as part of your rehabilitation.

Pain – This is caused by nerve damage and can become chronic.

Numbness – You can burn yourself or injure your arm or hand if you lose sensation in your arm or hands.

Muscle atrophy – After an injury, nerves can slow to regenerate and may take many years to heal. The affected muscles may become weaker if they are not used.

Permanent disability – The extent of your recovery from a severe brachial plexus injury will depend on many factors. Some people may experience paralysis or permanent muscle weakness even with surgical procedures.

What Are the Long-Term Effects on Brachial Plexus Injuries?

If you have severe injuries to your brachial plexus, immediate surgical treatment may be necessary to restore function. You might be permanently disabled and unable to use your arm or hand.

Brachial plexus injuries can cause a loss of sensation. You should be careful when handling hot objects, razors, and knives. Brachial plexus injuries can prevent you from feeling any other injury in the affected area. You may not even be aware that you’ve been injured.

An injury to the brachial plexus can cause Horner’s syndrome. This is a condition in which nerves in the sympathetic nervous system have been damaged. Horner’s syndrome can cause a droopy eyelid, a constricted pupil, and reduced facial sweating on one end of the face. Horner’s syndrome is not a treatable condition. However, treating the underlying cause can help relieve symptoms.

Brachial plexus injuries can cause chronic pain, especially if patients don’t get their brachial plexus injury treated promptly. To manage pain, it is important to consult your neurologist or physical therapist.

Trauma to the brachial plexus can often lead to other injuries, such as bone fractures or shoulder dislocation. To maximize your chances of recovery, it is important to address all aspects of the injury.

How Can I Prevent Getting Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries?

While damage to the brachial plexus can’t always be avoided, there are steps you can take to minimize complications after an injury occurs. You can take care of yourself. You can prevent your joint stiffness by doing daily range-of-motion exercises or physical therapy if you are temporarily unable to use your arm or hand. Avoid bruising or cutting yourself as they may not be felt if you feel numb.

Your doctor might recommend that you use padding to protect the brachial area if you have suffered injuries. As for children, this will prevent your child’s joints from becoming stiff permanently and keep their working muscles strong.

How Is Recovery From A Brachial Plexus Injury Done?

There are a few different ways that people can recover from a brachial plexus injury. Some people may need nonsurgical treatment such as physical therapy to help them regain movement in their arms. Others may need to undergo a certain surgical procedure to fix the injured nerve. Examples of these surgical procedures include nerve repair, nerve transfer, nerve graft, etc. depending on the nerve injuries sustained. How long it takes to recover from a brachial plexus injury varies from person to person. Although it’s a given that nerves heal slowly, a person who sustained a severe brachial plexus injury might take longer to recover compared to a person who suffered a minor one.


If in doubt and you’re experiencing severe pain around your upper extremities, please consult your general physician for diagnosis and treatment. There are many methods used to diagnose a brachial plexus injury, some more common than others. The three main diagnostic tools used are electromyography (EMG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT).

Have you been injured in a car accident, or have you been playing contact sports and think you’ve injured your brachial plexus? If so, it’s important to be able to spot the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury. Identifying the symptoms can help you receive treatment sooner.