Brachial plexus injury

A network of nerves that are intertwined and control movement and sensation in the arms and hands. Our leading peripheral nerve surgeon can diagnose and treat loss of function and pain caused by a brachial plexus injury.

Enquiries & Appointments

What is the brachial plexus?

The brachial plexus is a group of five nerves which stem from the spinal cord in the neck. It connects the brain and spinal cord to the upper limb, allowing us movement and sensation.

Brachial plexus injuries happen when the arm is forcefully pulled or stretched. Falls, motorbike and car accidents and weapons can cause the injury.

Need to know

A brachial plexus injury in adults may involve each individual root and can result in:

  • avulsion (the root is torn from the spinal cord)
  • rupture (a tear at root level)

The most common symptoms of brachial plexus injury include:

  • weakness or numbness
  • loss of sensation
  • paralysis
  • pain

Neuropathic pain might mean that the root is torn from the spinal cord. It usually feels like stabbing, crushing, burning and tingling. If there is an electric sensation down the arm when the side of the neck is tapped (Tinel's sign), an urgent nerve repair operation is carried out. Nerve repairs are more successful carried out soon after the injury.

Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and help to make a diagnosis. If you've been in an accident, the diagnosis will be performed urgently. They will conduct a physical exam on all nerve groups controlled by the brachial plexus and look at the whole upper limb for symptoms. If they suspect brachial plexus injury, they might order the following:

  • MRI of the neck, chest and spine to help locate the injury
  • CT scan; here, dye is injected into the spinal cord and neck to display avulsion injuries
  • electrodiagnostic test; these can highlight nerve damage weeks of an injury, showing the full extent of the nerve degeneration

Urgent surgery may be performed when there's been trauma and there's a Tinel’s sign (an electric sensation shooting down the arm). This means there's a good chance that the nerve can be saved.

In less urgent cases, surgery may be recommended if the nerve isn't healing on its own. Your surgeon will either reattach both sides of a severed nerve (nerve repair) or use a nerve from somewhere else in your body (nerve graft) to guide the existing nerve fibres and help them grow into the muscle. The process of the nerve healing itself takes time and your doctor may recommend physiotherapy to prevent joint and muscle stiffness.

Our Brachial plexus injury locations

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

170 Tottenham Court Road W1T 7HA London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Princess Grace Hospital

The Princess Grace Hospital

42-52 Nottingham Place W1U 5NY London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.