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Brachial Plexus Injury in Sports Medicine Workup

  • Author: Thomas H Trojian, MD; Chief Editor: Sherwin SW Ho, MD  more...
 
Updated: Nov 26, 2014
 

Laboratory Studies

Lab studies generally are not indicated for the diagnosis of brachial plexus injuries.

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Imaging Studies

Ancillary tests are often limited to radiographic studies.

  • Radiography can be used to rule out bony involvement against peripheral nerves. This is common in patients with severe neck pain, limited ROM, weakness, or chronic pain. Complete cervical spine radiographs often include the following multiple views: anteroposterior (AP), lateral, odontoid view, bilateral, and obliques.
  • Initial radiographs may reveal clues to spinal canal stenosis as a cause of the symptoms experienced. MRI of the spine may likely elucidate any evidence of canal stenosis.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to determine any involvement of the cervical spine or nerve roots as the cause of the brachial plexus injury. MRIs should be reserved for athletes with recurrent stingers or symptoms that last more than a week. Clinical judgment is needed as some cases warrant MRI if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.

Ultrasound can provide only partial information because of the clavicle, and difficulty to see the outlet tract at the spine.[14] In brachial plexus cases, US may be useful but it cannot replace magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which can be crucial for assessing the root avulsions that frequently occur in brachial plexus injury.[14] Though, Zhu et al showed that the nerve root can be seen with high resolution ultrasound.[15] Its portable and economic nature makes ultrasound a reasonable first choice in the evaluation.[16]

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Other Tests

The electromyographic (EMG) studies are rarely necessary in the evaluation of stingers. The delay in development of abnormal activity limits their use to patients who have symptoms that last at least 2 weeks. EMG testing can help the physician confirm diagnosis and localize any possible lesions.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Thomas H Trojian, MD Professor of Family Medicine, Sports Medicine Fellowship Director, Department of Family Medicine, Associate Chief, Division of Sports Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine; Lead Team Physician, Drexel Athletics

Thomas H Trojian, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Society of Teachers of Family Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Melissa Mascaro, MD Fellow in Sports Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

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.

Chief Editor

Sherwin SW Ho, MD Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Section of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Chicago Division of the Biological Sciences, The Pritzker School of Medicine

Sherwin SW Ho, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Arthroscopy Association of North America, Herodicus Society, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Biomet, Inc. for speaking and teaching; Received grant/research funds from Smith and Nephew for fellowship funding; Received grant/research funds from DJ Ortho for course funding; Received grant/research funds from Athletico Physical Therapy for course, research funding; Received royalty from Biomet, Inc. for consulting.

Additional Contributors

Janos P Ertl, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine; Chief of Orthopedic Surgery, Wishard Hospital; Chief, Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy, Indiana University School of Medicine

Janos P Ertl, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, Hungarian Medical Association of America, Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous authors Federico E. Vaca, MD, FACEP, and Oniel Young, BS, to the development and writing of this article.

References
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  2. Starr HM Jr, Anderson B, Courson R, Seiler JG. Brachial plexus injury: a descriptive study of American football. J Surg Orthop Adv. 2014 Summer. 23(2):90-7. [Medline].

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