Is Axillary Nerve Dysfunction (AND)?
Axillary nerve dysfunction (AND) is a condition marked by a loss
of movement or sensation in the shoulder area. It’s also known as neuropathy of
the axillary nerve. Excessive stress or damage to the axillary nerve, which
serves the deltoid muscles and skin of the shoulder, causes AND.
Problems with the nerve can occur in the myelin sheath, which covers and
protects the nerve, or the central part of the nerve cell, called the axon.
Damage to these areas reduces or prevents the movement of
impulses within the nerve.
Are the Causes of Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?
AND can be due to:
- blunt trauma or excessive stress on the nerve
over a long period
- other body structures putting pressure on the axillary
nerve or trapping it against another body part
- a penetrating injury, such as a knife or gunshot
- exceeding the normal range of motion, which can
occur with a hyperextension injury to the shoulder
Stressing the limb by going beyond a comfortable range of motion
can trigger problems with the axillary nerve and other nerves. This is why
experts always warn that those who exercise or perform manual labor should be
careful not to stretch muscles and limbs beyond their usual range of motion.
Some doctors refer to the primary zone of injury for AND as the quadrilateral
space, which is part of the shoulder joint.
Is at High Risk for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?
You’re at a higher risk for AND as well as related nerve damage
- are an athlete or someone who participates in
high-impact upper body activities
- perform repetitive tasks using your shoulder
- have a certain type of existing bone fracture
- improperly use supportive equipment such as
Are the Symptoms of Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?
If you have AND, you may:
- feel numbness or tingling in the shoulder region
- have weakness in the shoulders
- have problems with normal physical activities,
such as lifting your arms above your head
- have difficulty lifting objects
Over time, your shoulder muscles may become smaller because they
aren’t used regularly. This can be a particular problem for people who exercise
with high resistance and heavy weights.
Is Axillary Nerve Dysfunction Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions to
determine if you have a problem with your axillary nerve. They’ll test your
upper body for pain and sensitivity by having you raise your arms. Your doctor
may also ask about any prior damage to the shoulder, the deltoid muscles, or
anything else in the area of the axillary nerve. Your doctor might also ask
about whether you used crutches or other support devices to see if certain stresses
damaged the axillary nerve.
Your doctor might order nerve tests, such as electromyography
(EMG), to learn more about the status of your axillary nerve. Some imaging
tests, such as MRI, may also be necessary.
Is Axillary Nerve Dysfunction Treated?
For moderate cases of AND, your doctor may recommend physical
therapy or changes to your daily routine. Specific exercises can help muscle
groups deal with nerve damage and preserve nerve function. Your doctor may also
prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to combat swelling or inflammation that’s
putting pressure on the axillary nerve.
If you have severe pain, your doctor might prescribe narcotic
medication. In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair areas
around the axillary nerve.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
In many cases, effective treatment can cure AND. The outcome depends
on the extent and nature of the initial injury. A trapped nerve can cause
chronic pain and require surgery. Lesser types of AND caused by long-term
stress may respond well to anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy.