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Traumatic Brachial Plexopathy Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Vladimir Kaye, MD; Chief Editor: Robert H Meier, III, MD  more...
 
Updated: Aug 27, 2015
 

History

History taking should include inquiry into the mechanism of injury, as well as a description of patient symptoms. Common mechanisms of injury involve cervical extension, rotation, lateral bending, and depression or hyperabduction of the shoulder.

Patients should be queried about weakness, sensory loss, paresthesias and dysesthesias, and the location of symptoms in the arm.

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Physical

The physician should examine the cervical spine, shoulder, clavicle, scapula, and related joints for range of motion (ROM), alignment, and tender points. A thorough neurologic examination of the upper extremity should include manual muscle testing, sensory examination, and an evaluation of deep tendon reflexes.[5]

  • The site of injury can be accurately localized with a precise neurologic examination by using the correlative neuroanatomy.
  • A sensory examination should include testing for light-touch sensation, pinprick sensation, 2-point discrimination, vibration sensation, and proprioception.
  • In an anterior dislocation of the shoulder, the sensory distribution of the axillary and musculocutaneous nerves are tested to detect nerve injury in the early stages.
  • Associated problems that require prompt attention can be identified with the following:
    • Evaluation of joint instability and scapular winging
    • Auscultation to detect hemidiaphragmatic paralysis
    • Observation of patterns of muscle weakness and/or atrophy, in which the injured side is compared with the uninvolved side
    • Testing for SCI and BI
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Causes

As previously noted, a large proportion of brachial plexopathies are caused by trauma. The mechanism of traumatic injuries and the magnitude, rate, and direction of deforming forces ultimately determine the extent and location of the injury. Mechanisms include traction, penetrating injury, and crushing or compression.

Closed injuries, such as those caused by motor vehicle accidents, industrial accidents, and sports-related trauma, are more common in civilian life than in military life. Violent torsion of the upper limb, either upward or downward, may damage the plexus. Shrapnel injuries and blast injuries, as well as gunshot wounds and knife injuries to the neck or axilla, can cause lesions in the brachial plexus.[6]

Iatrogenic injuries occur during surgery, particularly in procedures involving the following: (1) neck or shoulder, (2) opening of the chest, (3) regional anesthetic blocks, and (4) placement of cannulas. Injuries to the brachial plexus of neonates may occur during birth, as a result of the strain placed on the plexus by a wide separation of the head and shoulder or by forced adduction of the shoulder joint during a difficult delivery.[7, 8]

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Vladimir Kaye, MD Consulting Staff, Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry, Hoag Hospital

Vladimir Kaye, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, North American Spine Society, American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Murray E Brandstater, MBBS Chairman and Program Director, Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Loma Linda University School of Medicine

Murray E Brandstater, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, American Medical Association, Association for Academic Psychiatry, California Society of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Canadian Association of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Society of Clinical Neurophysiologists, Catholic Medical Association, National Stroke Association, Ontario Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of the United States

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Aishwarya Patil, MD Physiatrist (Rehabilitation Physician), Vice Chair, Immanuel Rehabilitation Center

Aishwarya Patil, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Association of Academic Physiatrists, Association of Physicians of India

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Robert H Meier, III, MD Director, Amputee Services of America; Active Medical Staff, Presbyterian/St Luke’s Hospital, Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital, Select Specialty Hospital; Consulting Staff, Kindred Hospital

Robert H Meier, III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Teresa L Massagli, MD Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine

Teresa L Massagli, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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