Brachial neuritis is caused by inflammation or damage to the nerves belonging to the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that transmit nerve signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, neck, arms, and chest region. Irritation of these nerves causes pain, burning sensation, and weakness in the shoulders that can radiate to the arm and hand.
Associated Anatomy: Shoulder, arm, and hand. In 75% of the cases, the symptoms only occur on one side of the body.
Causes: The exact cause of brachial neuritis is not known.
Signs or Symptoms
The symptoms of brachial neuritis depend upon which nerves of the brachial plexus have been affected and the severity of the nerve damage.
Initial Brachaial Neuritis Symptoms
- Severe, sudden-onset pain in the shoulder, usually at nighttime. The pain can radiate down to the arm and hand.
- This pain is unrelenting and is only relieved somewhat with the strongest of painkillers. The pain is sharp and may be associated with burning and electric shock-like sensations. This can last from a few hours to even weeks.
- The symptoms could get aggravated with arm movement.
The pain may subside after a few days, and some neurological symptoms can appear.
- Weakness or even paralysis of the shoulder muscles.
- Abnormal skin sensations such as tingling or numbness in the affected area.
- Loss of muscle mass or muscle atrophy in the shoulder.
- Shortness of breath may be experienced If nerves in the chest are affected.
An electromyography test is used to record and measure nerve signals to determine the health status of the nerves.
Your physician may order additional tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms. These include:
Blood work to detect any infection or autoimmune disease.
X-ray to rule out any bony injury or problems with nearby joints or bones.
CT or MRI to assess the muscles and soft tissues.
The doctor will also inquire about your family history, any recent injury or illnesses, etc.
Brachial Neuritis Treatments
Brachial neuritis usually resolves on its own, but as the pain and other symptoms can be severe and disabling, treatment focuses on pain management and restoring the strength of the shoulder and hand muscles.
- Medications: For pain relief, corticosteroid injections and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be administered.
- Physical Therapy: A rehabilitative program consisting of active and passive exercises may be required to recover the lost strength and functioning of the shoulder and/or arm muscles.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit: In this procedure, electrical signals are sent to the nerves in the affected area with the help of wires attached to the electrodes placed on the skin. These electrical signals disrupt the pain signals transmitted by the nerves and reduce pain.
- Surgery: If the symptoms do not adequately resolve even after a period of two years, surgery may be recommended. It involves repairing the damaged nerves with the grafts harvested from the healthy nerves. Tendon transfers can also be utilised. These procedures help restore the strength and function of the affected muscles.
- Heat or cold therapy: Heat or cold compresses can reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.
Doctors and researchers have not yet been able to find what causes the nerve damage in the brachial plexus, but some risk factors have been identified for brachial neuritis:
- Autoimmune Disorders: Autoimmune diseases can cause the immune system to attack the healthy nerves and result in brachial neuritis.
- Genetics: A dominant gene has been identified to cause a kind of brachial neuritis known as hereditary neuralgic amyotrophy. A person carrying this gene might not develop symptoms unless some injury or illness activates the gene.
- Age: Though brachial neuritis can occur at any age, people within the age group of 20-60 years are more likely to suffer from it.
- Sex: Occurance of brachial neuritis is greater in males as compared to females.
- Others: Babies can injure the brachial plexus during birth. It can also be caused due to sustaining an injury while doing strenuous exercises.
Alternate Name: Brachial neuritis is also known by the names of Parsonage-Turner syndrome, neuralgic amyotrophy, or brachial plexitis.
- Brachial neuritis is a rare condition, affectingly only about 1 to 2 persons per 100,000.
- Age: Brachial neuritis is more frequently seen in people of age 20 to 60 years, though it can occur at any age.
- Sex: Brachial neuritis is more commonly seen in males as compared to females.
Brachial neuritis usually resolves on its own in a couple of months or years. There is no cure for the root cause of this condition, but treatments are available to provide symptom relief.
Symptoms of brachial neuritis change with time. It starts with severe pain, which gradually subsides, followed by weakness of the shoulder and/or arm. The symptoms do not spread to other areas of the body. Timely treatment helps in the prevention of permanent nerve damage.
Brachial neuritis is a kind of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs due to damage to the nerves of the brachial plexus. In the idiopathic form of brachial neuritis, the cause of the nerve damage is known, though it can be related to an autoimmune response in several cases.
The genetic form of brachial neuritis is caused by the activation of a dominant gene following an injury or illness.
Brachial neuritis is not known to spread or cause any other illnesses, but muscle weakness can decrease the control and increases the risk of any accidents. Thus, you might need to make some changes to your routine.
Brachial neuritis can sometimes lead to partial or total paralysis of the shoulder. It can also cause permanent nerve damage.
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