Brachial neuritis is a form of peripheral neuropathy that affects the chest, shoulder, arm and hand. Peripheral neuropathy is a disease 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. It is a fairly rare condition.
Brachial neuritis is also 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 or neuralgic amyotrophy.
Brachial neuritis affects mainly the lower nerves of the brachial plexus, in the arm and hand. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that travels from the spinal cord to the chest, shoulder, arms, and hands. 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 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
In some cases, acute brachial neuritis will resolve on its own over time. Your health care provider 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.
Using painkiller drugs to manage the pain is the first step in treatment. The pain is worst when the problem starts. Medications such as tricyclic antidepressants, duloxetine, or gabapentin may also be used for pain. Steroid medications such as prednisone may be considered in the early phase. The pain lessens as the months pass.
Your doctor may suggest you do physical and occupational therapy. This can help with your range of motion and help keep your strength.