The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send electrical impulses from the spinal cord to the shoulders, arms and hands. A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are stretched, compressed or torn from the spinal cord. Minor brachial plexus injuries are common in athletes who play contact sports. Accidents and car crashes are the main cause of serious brachial plexus injuries, in which the brachial plexus tears. Babies sometimes sustain brachial plexus injuries during birth. Depending on the level and severity of the nerve injury, Brachial plexus injuries can range from reversible weakness in the limbs to total palsy (Pan Palsy) of the upper limb. The arms may feel numb or they may feel a tingly sensation passing through them. In case of severe brachial plexus injuries, the patient will also feel severe pain.
Minor brachial plexus injuries respond well to electrical stimulation, physiotherapy, medication and assistive devices like splints and compression sleeves. However, brachial plexus injuries that do not heal on their own will require surgical intervention. The surgeon may opt for a nerve repair, nerve graft or nerve transfer procedure after evaluation of the nerve injury. Prompt and early intervention is important to give the patient the highest chances of recovering full function in the arms. The follow-up treatment is as important as surgery itself and has to be followed meticulously. Nerve recovery is slow and hence the patient may take months to recover, depending on the severity of the case. These patients might require multiple procedures in the later stage like Tendon transfer, arthrodesis, Free Functional Muscle transfer etc depending on the outcome of the initial surgery.
Regular physical therapy and self-motivation can help speed up this process.