Medical Definition of Brachial plexus palsy

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Brachial plexus palsy: Paralysis of the arm due to an injury to the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of spinal nerves that originates in the back of the neck, extends through the axilla (armpit), and gives rise to nerves to the upper limb (arm). The brachial plexus is formed by the union of portions of the fifth through eighth cervical nerves and the first thoracic nerve, all of which come from the spinal cord.

Brachial plexus palsy is subdivided into upper and lower, depending on which trunk of the plexus is injured. Upper brachial plexus paralysis is called Erb palsy while lower brachial plexus paralysis is called Klumpke palsy. There can also be total brachial plexus palsy.

Brachial plexus injury is common in childbirth when the shoulder girdle is stretched.

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Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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