There are 3 types of Brachial Plexus injuries:|
1.Stretch - which vary in degrees of intensity, however nerves in plexus are often compressed due
to swelling or bruising from birth trauma of shoulder getting caught on the
pelvic bone. Stretch injuries will spontaneously recover in 1-2 years of age
with 90-100% return of function. neuroma which is scar tissue that compresses the
nerves may occur also and surgical intervention is needed to remove it.
Patient with a brachial plexus injury will usually present with arm internally rotated, abducted and wrist
somewhat flex depending on level of lesion. Scapular winging is a common problem of all brachial plexus
injuries due to impairment of the long thoracic nerve. Phrenic nerve damage can also occur in brachial plexus
2.Rupture - nerves are torn at either one or several places in the plexus requiring surgery for
the nerves to recover.
3.Avulsion (most severe injury) - nerves are pulled from the spinal cord as evidenced by a
totally flaccid extremity, which requires surgery and possibly muscle transfer
to gain function. Horner's syndrome may be present if this is involved.
Shoulder or elbow dislocation
Soft tissue/joint contractures
Do not lift child under armpit
* If frozen shoulder or contractures are present, place hot pack on tightened musculature for 10-15 minutes
followed by massage/myofascial release then resume passive stretching.
- Provide patient's parents with home program PROM sheets 2-3 daily x 10 reps in all motions
- Begin gentle PROM exercise in supine to increase joint flexibility and muscle tone
- Provide tactile stimulation to involved extremity using various textured materials, koosh balls,
vibration and massage to increase sensory awareness of that extremity in overall body scheme
- Joint compression/weight bearing throughout involved extremity to increase- proprioceptive
- Active use of involved extremity using a variety of developmental appropriate activities to increase
strength and coordination beginning in gravity eliminated then advance to against gravity
- Always include bimanual/bilateral motor planning activities
- Pool therapy
- Scapular stabilization to increase scapulo-humeral mobility
- To hold arm in supination and external rotation you may want to suggest to parent to place pillows
or stuffed animals underneath armpit and alongside arm while patient is at rest or sleeping to provide a
- Do not hold arm in elbow flexion on top of chest by restraining it for long periods of time although
placing arm while feeding or resting in this position is acceptable to not let arm dangle in space.
- For a flaccid hand/wrist, a resting hand splint should be provided to maintain hand in a proper
functional position and for protection secondary to deficits in sensory nerves.
- A futuro wrist brace or neoprene thumbs abductor splint with synergy wrist extensor support/dycem
may increase child's ability to weight bear on involved extremity.
- For decreased wrist extension a dorsal cockup splint will increase active grasp of involved hand
- For an elbow flexion contracture a 3 point elbow extension splint is made with an adjustable elbow
- An elbow conformer splint can also be used for a soft tissue contracture caused by the elbow flexors
overpowering extensors. It is also beneficial to maintains the arm in extension for active reaching to
strengthen deltoid or in weight bearing activities when the triceps are weak.
- For no active elbow flexion but full extension a dynamic elbow flexion splint may be fabricated using
rubber bands or theratube with thermo plastic or neoprene cuffs or hinges can be used also.
- For thumb in palm after 3-4 months of age a Joe Cool splint to increase active thumb abduction and
opposition is used.
- May be used on involved extremity to allow for stability in elbow extension to bear weight on involved
arm to crawl
- May be used intermittently on uninvolved arm to immobilize it to allow involved arm to move actively
- Precautions: watch for circulatory changes, numbness or swelling
- Air splints can be ordered from Flaghouse or Sammons catalog for pediatric sizes
Usually you will see first movement patterns at approximately 2-4
months of age which include:
Usually the last motions to return are:
- Shoulder elevation/depression or protraction/retraction
- Shoulder flexion 0-90 degrees using pectoral musculature Shoulder abduction 0-45 degrees
using supraspinatus musculature
- Elbow flexion with forearm pronated bringing hand to mouth and/or hands to midline
- Finger flexion/extension with wrist in flexion then later with wrist in extension
* Remember each child's nervous system and injury are different so depending on what nerves
are damaged is what muscle function you will see. The above statements are common generalized
- Full shoulder flexion/abduction using deltoid musculature
- Supination (children do not actively perform this motion until 11 months of age)
- External rotation
- Full elbow extension using triceps
* If you do not see any progression of active movement in involved extremity
there is a strong possibility that nerves are ruptured or avulsed an
immediate referral to The Children's Hospital
Brachial Plexus Team is advised evaluation of need of surgery. An EMG and/or CT
used to determine what nerves are involved. Preferred surgery age is 5-7 months
for best prognosis.
10% brachial plexus injuries require surgery and improvement can be expected in
at least 90% of them.