What Is Brachial Neuritis?
If you have brachial neuritis, the nerves that control your
shoulder, arm, and hand become inflamed. These nerves form what is known as the
brachial plexus. They run from your spinal cord along your neck and shoulder
into your arm.
Brachial neuritis can cause severe pain in your shoulder. When
this pain subsides, your shoulder may be weak, limiting your movement. This is
a rare disorder that often begins suddenly, with pain frequently beginning
during the night. Brachial neuritis is also called neuralgic amyotrophy or
The two main types of brachial neuritis are idiopathic and inherited.
The most common type is idiopathic, which may result from your immune system
attacking your nerves. However, doctors don’t understand exactly how the nerve
damage develops in either type.
What Are the Symptoms of Brachial Neuritis?
Brachial neuritis generally begins with pain, which leads to a
period of muscle weakness. How long and how severe each of these phases are can
vary depending on the person. The symptoms of brachial neuritis include:
- sudden, intense shoulder pain, that’s often
described as stabbing or burning and is most often in the right shoulder but
sometimes in both
- pain that becomes worse if you move your
- pain that’s only relieved by the strongest
painkillers and remains constant for a number of hours or even weeks
- shoulder muscles weakness or paralysis as the
pain goes away
- muscle atrophy, which is a decrease in muscle
- areas of numbness that occasionally develop in
your arm or shoulder
- shortness of breath, which occurs if the nerve
to your diaphragm is affected
What Are the Causes of Brachial Neuritis?
The cause of brachial neuritis is unknown.
What Are the Risk Factors for Brachial Neuritis?
You’re more likely to get brachial neuritis if you’re male. Although the
condition can occur at any age, those over age 20 and below 60 are most
How Is Brachial Neuritis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your condition and conduct an
examination to look for painful or wasted muscles. They’ll also test your
shoulder movement and strength. In some people, the shoulder blade on the
affected side protrudes or stands out more than usual, and your doctor will
check for this. They may also test your reflexes and skin sensation to check for
Your doctor may order X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs of your neck and
shoulder. The scans can help rule out other causes, such as a slipped disc or
tumor, which could press on the nerves and cause similar symptoms.
Electrical testing may be performed to show whether individual
nerves are functioning correctly. Your doctor may also use blood tests to look
for any underlying illnesses.
What Are the Treatments for Brachial Neuritis?
Brachial neuritis can often be treated with a combination of
medication and physical therapy. However, in rare cases, your doctor may say
you need surgery.
Medication and Exercise
Initially, your treatment will give you painkillers. Once your
pain is controlled, your doctors will focus on helping your arm and shoulder
regain normal function. To strengthen your muscles, you may need to follow a
rehabilitative program of passive and active exercises for up to eight weeks. A
physical therapist will supervise your exercises.
If your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may recommend
surgery. This might be suggested if you still haven’t recovered after a period
of about two years. During surgery, damaged nerves can be repaired using grafts
taken from healthy nerves. The procedure should restore your muscle function.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
In most cases, you can expect the pain of brachial neuritis to lessen
after several days or weeks. The muscle weakness should resolve within a few
months. As a general rule, the longer the painful period lasts, the longer your
overall recovery will take. Some people find that their muscle weakness lasts
for a number of years, and a few are left with a permanent, although slight,
loss of strength.