Brachial Plexus Disorders

Shoulder pain originating with nerve entrapments

Learn more about the nerve entrapment and irritations of the brachial plexus

The nerves that supply the skin and muscles of the shoulder, arm, and hand emerge from the spine and form the brachial plexus. This complex collection of nerves is arrayed between the spine and the shoulder joint. Along the way, it is subject to various types of injuries and entrapments.

Among the milder injuries causing pain and weakness is a group of conditions collectively called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) — these involve entrapment or irritation of the nerves. More severe trauma can injure the nerves, stretch them severely, or even break or tear them. The most common causes of severe injuries to the brachial plexus are motor vehicle injuries – particularly motorcycle injuries – and severe blows to the shoulder. An entirely different cause affects infants at the moment of their birth as the shoulder becomes caught in the birth canal in a difficult delivery.

When the brachial plexus is injured so severely as to cause a paralysis of the arm, it is important for the physician to try to determine whether the problem will resolve on its own or whether in will require surgery to repair or reconstuct the nerves. Often, MR Neurography can provide definitive information about the precise location and severity of the injury. In general, in the case of complete paralysis requiring surgical nerve repair, the surgery should be undertaken within six months of the date of the injury.

Please review our brachial plexus information, and complete the response form on this page to request an appointment with the Institute for Nerve Medicine and Dr. Aaron Filler in Santa Monica, California.

Information on Brachial Plexus Disorders

Tumors and Schwannomas

nerve-bptsLocalization of Schwannomas Within the Brachial Plexus for Planning of Tumor Resection

Animation: Position of schwannoma in brachial plexus in patient with asymptomatic palpable neck mass.

The oblique coronal view (A) allows counting and identification of the cervical spinal nerves and establishes that only the C5 root is involved with this Schwannoma. “Nerve perpendicular” image slices can be obtained by using the image from the oblique coronal view to depict the direction of travel of the nerve trunks near the tumor.

The resulting oblique sagittal (B) view demonstrates each of the cervical spinal nerves in cross section and demonstrates their relationship to the tumor.

(C) Relationship of nerve trunks to tumor. The surgical approach and risks of nerve injury can be greatly influenced by the relative position of nerve and tumor. In many cases, MR Neurography allows the position of the traversing nerve elements relative to the tumor can be clearly established in advance of surgery. This is a “nerve perpendicular” image in which a double oblique image orientation is prescribed so that the image plane crosses most of the plexus elements at right angles in the region of interest.

Nerve Root Avulsions

nerve-bpnraPseudomeningocoele after Brachial Plexus Nerve Root Avulsion

Animation: Demonstration of traumatic pseudomeningocoeles.

The MR Neurography imaging technique also provides a useful MR myelogram capable of efficient demonstrations of traumatic pseudomeningocoeles. This term refers to the residual nerve lining left behind when the nerve elements are literally pulled out of the spinal cord by a severe injury

Although, these images are still not always definitive in the confirmation of true nerve root avulsion they are more reliable for making this diagnosis than the other available imaging techniques.

Post-Irradiation Plexopathy

nerve-bpplexPlexopathy and Plexitis After Irradiation for Breast Cancer

Animation: Late plexopathy after mastectomy and irradiation for breast cancer.

(A) This patient had a bright irregular nerves of normal caliber suggestive of a radiation neuritis treatable with steroids.

(B) Hyperintense brachial plexus elements of extremely narrow caliber suggest encircling mechanical entrapment associated with post-irradiation fibrosis. Surgical neurolysis may be helpful.

(C) Grossly swollen nerve roots and hydrothorax associated with aggressive tumor recurrence and nerve invasion by tumor.

Brachial Plexitis

nerve-bpitisPlexitis and other Inflammatory Conditions Affecting the Brachial Plexus

Animation: Image findings in patients with painless pure motor weakness of hand intrinsics.

(A), (B), (C) Image findings in patients with painless pure motor weakness of hand intrinsics with no sensory findings (Gilliatt-Sumner Hand) there is hyperintensity and swelling in the elements of the lower trunk without mechanical deformation or other evidence of mechanical entrapment. Surgical treatment is unlikely to be effective and an inflammatory or vascular.

Brachial Plexus Trauma

nerve-bptraumaDiagnosis of Traumatic Discontinuities in Brachial Plexus Elements

Animation: Confirmation of total nerve disruption in trauma.

(A) The right brachial plexus of a 15-year-old with flail arm – lacking any movement or sensation, two months after a motorcycle accident. The image demonstrates gross discontinuities ro disruptions in the upper plexus elements (ue), meningocoeles proximally (me), and bright swollen nerve trunks (st).

(B) Disconnected and retracted lower trunk (lt) in traumatic injury of brachial plexus.

Take control today

Request an appointment with Dr. Aaron Filler

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Dr. Aaron G. Filler, MD PhD JD FRCS

Medical Director, Institute for Nerve Medicine
Santa Monica, California

Dr. Aaron Filler is the world’s leading expert in the treatment of nerve pain, revolutionizing this area of medicine by inventing several new technologies. One such technology, MR Neurography, enables doctors to use an MRI scanner to examine nerves, previously a difficult-to-impossible tissue to visualize with MR imaging. Dr. Filler’s research in axonal transport is leading to a whole new generation of advanced pain medications. He has developed many new “minimal access” surgery methods that allow him to treat complex nerve problems with small outpatient surgeries. He has also pioneered the use of the Open MRI scanner to do surgeries and other therapies with the ultra-high precision and safety of the magnetic resonance imaging.

Dr. Aaron Filler combines three key components in his treatment of each patient:

  • Compassionate personal attention,
  • Expert medical skills, and
  • The best technology in the world

He combines these components to turn insoluble pain problems into specific treatable diagnoses. Prior to coming to the Institute for Nerve Medicine, many of Dr. Filler’s patients have seen a dozen doctors (or more), experienced failed surgeries, and have even had their very pain questioned.

Time and again, Dr. Filler demonstrates that in many of these cases the problem is the doctor and not the patient. A cure is in reach when the best available medical care is brought to bear.

Insurance and Payment Options

Questions about what insurance plans the Institute for Nerve Medicine accepts?

We accept all insurance plans (including PPO, POS, etc.) that include out-of-network benefits.

We have opted out of Medicare.

We do not insurance-bill any worker’s compensation plan.

We provide interest-free monthly payment plans for patients with insurance plans that do not fully cover costs of out-of-network and specialty medical services.

We accept all major forms of payment: VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, personal checks and cash (US currency). We do not accept foreign currencies (e.g. Euro).

We work with patients of every budget level and want all patients to have access to the best expert care in this field. Accordingly, billing services are offered as a courtesy to all patients.

More questions? Call us at 310-314-6410.