The brachial plexus nerves are a system that runs from the top of the spine all the way to the hands, covering both the shoulders and the arms. While injuries to these nerves can happen to anyone, they most often affect infants who go through a strenuous birthing process. Depending on how the injury happened and where it strikes, the severity and symptoms can vary greatly. Similarly, many times, infants with brachial plexus injuries recover on their own in a matter of months or even days. In other instances, though, the child may never recover fully.
Treating a Minor Brachial Plexus Injury
Fortunately, as we just mentioned, many infants’ brachial plexus nerves heal without medical attention. A physician may still conduct X-rays, however, over the course of several months to make sure this occurs and that the injury doesn’t demand medical intervention.
Even with minor injuries, a physician may recommend physical therapy. This may not always be necessary for a full recovery, but can help speed up the process. Also, the sooner an infant is started on a regimen, the brighter their outlook.
While a physician will develop the plan, they will usually train the parents to carry it out at home on a regular basis. Checking in for clinical care occasionally will most likely play a role as well.
Most forms of physical therapy for minor brachial plexus injuries include:
- Range of motion exercises
- Sensory awareness
- Flexibility exercises
- Myofascial releases
- Exercising the child’s joints and functioning muscles
With the help of physical therapy, the majority of infant brachial plexus injuries will disappear and the child will most likely grow up never knowing it happened.
Treating Severe Brachial Plexus Injuries
In severe cases, brachial plexus injuries may demand surgery. As the infant could recover within three to six months without this type of intervention, many physicians will wait to see what occurs. However, if the infant hasn’t improved, surgery will generally be initiated. Nerve grafting isn’t always successful, but tends to be the most common form of surgery utilized in these cases.
To carry out a nerve graft, the surgeon will transplant a healthy nerve from another part of the baby’s body. This healthy nerve is then introduced to the damaged area of the brachial plexus. The healthy nerve is often taken from between the rib bones or the leg. Its success depends largely on how severe the injury was. If the graft works, the infant will most likely receive full-mobility back within a few months.
Another method that is sometimes utilized with serious brachial plexus injuries is neuromuscular electrical stimulation. This form of treatment is usually reserved for children who are three or older, but has become extremely popular.
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation involves sending currents into the muscles of the damaged area. The application of alternating currents can lead to increased blood flow where it’s needed and even improve muscular function.
Lastly, neurolysis can be used for brachial plexus injuries, though it’s generally reserved for neuroma. This is a type of injury where scar tissue forms around the damaged area, reducing its ability to properly function by adding pressure to the nerves.
With neurolysis, chemicals are applied to the scar tissue in order to freeze or burn them away. Alcohol, phenol, and glycerol are used and both hot and cold applications may be necessary.
While it’s important to recognize that brachial plexus can represent a very scary injury to your child, it’s just as important to know that there are treatments available to address it. If damage to the brachial plexus isn’t obvious in the delivery room, the best treatment is keeping an eye on your child for signs. Early detection will give your infant the best chance at a full recovery.