Brachial Plexopathy

Brachial Plexopathy

Brachial plexopathy occurs when there is damage to the brachial plexus - the bundle of nerve which exit your spinal cord at the base of the neck, between the C5 and T1 vertebrae.

Symptoms of Brachial Plexopathy

  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Pain may radiate down the arm
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
  • Weakness in the arm and hand

What is Brachial Plexopathy?

Brachial plexopathy is a form of peripheral neuropathy caused by damage to the brachial plexus. This bundle of nerves exits the spinal column between the C5 and T1 vertebrae and then course down to the shoulder and several pass through the arm and into the hand.

Damage to the brachial plexus can be either traumatic through a sudden injury to the area, or more chronic, either through poor posture, carrying heavy bags or illnesses such as viruses or tumors in the area.

It may not always be clear what has caused the injury, especially in the case of viral illnesses.

Injury when carrying heavy bags over the shoulder, especially on one shoulder only, is sometimes called Backpack Palsy.


Brachial plexopathy can often be determined by a therapist using the history of the injury and symptoms present.

If further tests are required, these may include:


Treatment of brachial plexopathy should be aimed at correcting what has caused the problem, easing pain and enabling the patient to use their hand and arm as much as possible in the short-term.

In many cases, the symptoms are only temporary. In acute injuries, it may be swelling compressing the nerve, rather than injury to the nerve axon itself, which is causing the symptoms.

Depending on the cause of your injury and the extent of the problem, anti-convulsants and anti-depressants may be prescribed by your Doctor.

Physical therapy may be helpful for those who have postural problems contributing to the injury (such as desk workers and backpack palsy sufferers) or where a traumatic injury has caused muscle weakness / tightness.

Education regarding posture, workplace desk set-up and how to carry bags may be necessary.

Surgery is rarely recommended in such cases, although may be required for those with tumors or nerve compression.


In cases of nerve damage from a traumatic injury where a nerve is severed (partially or fully), the nerves will eventually repair themselves.

Human nerve growth rates can reach up to 5mm a day in large nerves (less in smaller ones). Electrical stimulation may promote the healing rate.

Related Articles

Pain in the Neck (Cervicalgia)

Cervicalgia is a pain in the neck which does not radiate outwards (or down the arms). Cervicalgia is slightly different to a neck strain, which is usually more short-lived.

Radiating Neck Pain

Pain in the neck which radiates to other areas is usually a result of nerves being trapped. The cause of the trapped nerve can be tight muscles, disc damage, or formation of bony deposits.

Intervertebral Sprain

Intervertebral sprains are ligament injuries to any of the ligaments of the spine. This can happen in any part of the spine, although the neck and upper back are more common.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a term used to describe the compression of nerves and / or blood vessels which travel from the neck to the armpit (axilla). Compression of these structures can cause...