Do I need surgery for a brachial plexus injury?

man with brachial plexus injury

The brachial plexus is a network of five nerves that control muscle movements and sensation in your hand, arm, and shoulder. An injury to the brachial plexus can result in muscle weakness, loss of sensation, or paralysis of the shoulder and upper limb muscles. If the injury is mild, it may heal on its own and not require treatment, but for more severe injuries, a nerve specialist may recommend nerve decompression surgery to help regain function of the hand or arm.

Causes and Symptoms of a Brachial Plexus Injury

There are many causes of a brachial plexus injury. An injury to the brachial plexus occurs when there is forceable pulling or stretching of the arm, and the head is pushed in the opposite direction. This type of injury can be the result of the following:

  • Fall
  • Automobile or motorcycle accident
  • Knife or gunshot wound
  • Cancer treatment

Symptoms of a brachial plexus injury typically affect the hand and arm and may include:

  • Sudden pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Loss of sensation
  • Burning or stinging
  • Paralysis

Treatment Options

Surgery is not the first option for treatment for a brachial plexus injury since this type of injury can sometimes recover on its own. In addition to giving the injury time to heal, conservative treatments such as the following may be used:

  • Pain medications
  • Corticosteroid creams
  • Injections
  • Physical therapy exercises

If the nerves do not heal on their own, surgery may be recommended. Surgery options for a brachial plexus injury may include:

  • Nerve repair to reconnect the torn edges of the damaged nerve
  • Nerve graft using a healthy nerve from another location to connect the ends of the separated nerve to help with healing
  • Nerve transfer to attach an inferior but functioning nerve to the damaged nerve to allow for new nerve growth
  • Tendon or muscle transfer if surgery cannot be performed to repair the damaged nerves

If surgery is done for the injury, it can take time to see results. Since nerves only grow about one inch per month, it can take several weeks or months to notice improvement. During this time, you may need physical therapy and regular appointments with your nerve specialist. As you recover, the pain will diminish, and you should regain strength and sensation in your hands and arms.

Dr. Williams has been successful in using nerve decompression surgery on patients with a brachial plexus injury. If you have questions about surgery for a brachial plexus injury, contact Dr. Williams for an evaluation. To schedule an appointment in the Baltimore office, contact us at (410) 709-3868 or fill out our contact form online.