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Brachial Neuritis

Brachial neuritis is a form of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a disease that is typically characterized by pain or loss of function in the nerves that carry signals to and from the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) to other parts of the body.

In the specific case of brachial neuritis, the pain, loss of function, and other damage occurs in the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that travels from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arms, and hands.

Brachial neuritis is also commonly referred to as brachial neuropathy or a brachial plexus injury. When acute brachial neuritis occurs, the damage to the brachial nerves comes on suddenly and unexpectedly, without being related to any other injury or physical condition. This is also called Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

Facts about brachial neuritis

Brachial neuritis is a fairly rare condition.

The cause of brachial neuritis is unknown. In some instances, the symptoms of brachial neuritis seem to be related to another illness or injury. At other times, however, the pain and weakness associated with the disease crop up on their own, without any explanation. 

Types of brachial neuritis

Brachial neuritis affects mainly the lower nerves of the brachial plexus. It usually affects just one side of the body, but it can involve other nerves and other parts of the body, as well. Here is a brief overview of the different types of brachial plexus injuries:

  • Acute brachial neuritis. This type of brachial neuritis occurs unexpectedly on its own. It is characterized by sharp, severe pain in the nerves of the brachial plexus, followed by weakness or numbness. The cause of acute brachial neuritis is unknown.

  • Brachial plexus injury. Some people have pain and loss of function to the brachial plexus as the result of another type of injury. For example, babies can injure the brachial plexus when they pass through the birth canal during labor.

Symptoms

Symptoms of brachial neuritis include:

  • Severe pain in the upper arm or shoulder

  • Pain usually affecting just one side of the body

  • After a few hours or days, the pain transitions to weakness, limpness, or paralysis in the muscles of the affected arm or shoulder

  • Lack of muscle control in the shoulder or arm

  • Lack of sensation or feeling in the shoulder or arm

  • Symptoms typically resolve slowly over the course of a few months or a few years

Diagnosis

If any of the symptoms are noted, the location of the symptoms in the shoulder, upper back, or upper arm area is an indication that brachial neuritis is the cause.

If the doctor suspects that brachial neuritis might be the cause of your pain, he or she may also perform electromyography or nerve conduction studies to determine the specific nature and extent of the nerve damage. If the doctor suspects that your brachial pain might be related to another type of another medical condition or illness, he or she may conduct additional tests.

Treatment

In most cases, acute brachial neuritis will resolve on its own over time. Your doctor may give you corticosteroids for the pain in the meantime. If the brachial neuritis is the result of an injury and surgery can be performed in a timely fashion, then surgery might be used to repair the nerves of the brachial plexus region.

Prevention

Experts don’t know how to prevent brachial neuritis. The best thing you can do is avoid arm and shoulder injuries. But in a lot of cases, the cause of brachial neuritis is unknown, and there is little you can do to prevent it.

Managing brachial neuritis

The good news is that many cases of brachial neuritis will resolve of their own accord after a few months. The best thing you can do is be patient and take pain medication as prescribed by your doctor to manage the severe pain of brachial neuritis in the meantime.

Home remedies

Avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercises can help many with various types of peripheral neuropathy, and brachial neuritis is no exception. In many cases, working with a physical therapist can help improve the condition.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga may also help ease emotional and physical symptoms by helping you relieve stress naturally. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Weisbart, Ed, M.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: Ziegler, Olivia Walton, MS, PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 6/25/2012
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.