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What Is Brachial Neuritis?

Brachial Neuritis generally presents itself with extreme unilateral shoulder pain.
An illustration of the human nervous system which is affected by brachial neuritis.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Syda Productions, J E Theriot
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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The brachial plexus is a collection of nerves, one on each side of the body, that help to provide sensation to the shoulders, the arms, the hands, and the chest. Damage to this area, which can occur in many ways, may create a condition called brachial neuritis, which typically affects the shoulders most and is most likely to affect men. It is very difficult to ignore this condition, given the extreme discomfort it creates when it first appears.

Symptoms of brachial neuritis include an onset of pain in the shoulder, usually on one side only. This pain may be observable with other symptoms like loss of reflexes or impaired range of shoulder motion. In complicated cases, since this illness can exist for a long time period, other parts of the brachial plexus fail to supply appropriate impulses to the arms or to the chest, and though rare, breathing may become affected with this failure.

People who have this condition should see a medical professional to get a diagnosis, but the cause isn’t always easy to determine. Healthcare professionals evaluate symptoms and, if they suspect brachial neuritis, they still may not have an answer as to cause. There are many problems that can lead to this disease, including a genetic form of the illness. Other potential risk factors include having certain autoimmune illnesses; being recently sick with bacterial, viral or fungal infection; or getting immunizations. Alternately, some tumors may cause these symptoms.

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Treating this problem must then be a twofold endeavor. First, pain management is needed and, depending on pain tolerance, patients might be helped by over-the-counter medicines or require opiates. Any underlying illness present may need treatment. Autoimmune diseases could fall into this category, as could lingering bacterial or parasitic infections. Even once the pain is treated, the discomfort can last for a long time period, frequently up to two years.

Medical professionals usually highly recommend physical therapy to preserve range of motion in the shoulder and prevent muscle wasting. In rare instances, these steps are not enough, or breathing is affected, so healthcare providers might consider more aggressive measures of treatment at this point, including surgery to change the way the brachial plexus sends and receives nerve responses. Surgery is generally considered only when other treatment is not effective.

Many people who have brachial neuritis make a full recovery. This is less likely if the condition occurs simultaneously, affecting each brachial plexus, which is fairly rare. In general, the condition, though perhaps not its cause, is fairly easy to diagnose because of its sudden and fairly alarming and uncomfortable onset. Fortunately, the disease itself has a low occurrence rate, though a person who thinks that he or she may have it should consult with a medical professional right away.

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Discuss this Article

anon341584
Post 24

I‘m a fit and healthy female in my early 40’s. I had my first experience of brachial neuritis in February 2013 and I was off work for nearly two months and was in excruciating pain.

I woke one morning, after just having a bout of flu, in absolute agony and couldn't get out of bed. Without being given an initial diagnosis, the emergency doctor prescribed Diazepam and as I visited the Physio and my regular GP over the next couple of months, this changed to Tramadol, some kind of anti-inflammatory, Co-codamol then Amytriptyline combined with regular pain killers. I was in complete agony and didn't do anything physical at home in fear of pulling a muscle or making my suspected injury worse. I also became quite complacent with everything – the fact that I couldn’t go to work or do anything at home and I didn’t go anywhere as the pain really made me feel miserable. I really felt that I was not going to get better. I think the meds also affect the way I was thinking and feeling.

Eventually, the pain did ease but I was left with the tingling in my arm down into my hand and weakness in my right arm. Once the tingling had eased, I was left with the weakness. At this point I was referred to a specialist who diagnosed me within two minutes and I was so relieved. He said that this was something I had developed from having the flu. He prescribed Amytriptyline and a double dose of Vitamin B Complex.

Today, I still have the weakness, am still on Vitamin B and do weight exercises with my arm in the hopes that it will feel normal again. I don't know if this was a coincidence, because I felt so much better than I had in weeks, but when I started taking the Vitamin B, I had masses of energy which felt/feels great but some discomfort in my shoulder (what feels like muscle pain), still lingers. My arm does still feel weak although I am finding the weights easier. The specialist said that within six months (December) I should be better, but if there is noticeable weakness and I still have the discomfort in my neck/shoulder, I will be going back as I am still a bit dubious as to whether my arm/nerves will completely recover.

All this being said, after looking into BN on the internet, I seem to have got off quite lightly and really hope that I don’t have another attack later in my life.

anon338762
Post 23

Have you had an EMG of the serratus anterior muscle? You could be developing scapular winging from brachial neuritis which in my experience caused both of your symptoms plus lots of chest pain from the detaching of the serratus muscle from the chest wall. Check out Dr. Nath in Houston, Texas and read all about it. Maybe it will be of some help to you.

anon337604
Post 22

@anon203840: I have to agree that my brachial neuritis has also caused permanent fatigue and breathlessness after exertions which I would previously have taken in my stride.

I am a 62 year old male who was, until the onset of BN six months ago, very fit for my age. I would suspect that the tiredness is caused by the constant ache in my shoulder and upper arm, as pain in any part of the body tends to have this effect, but I am only guessing. If anyone knows of any medical reason why BN in particular should cause this symptom, I would love to know.

anon327194
Post 21

This goes out to everyone who received a tdap vaccine. It is known that tdap causes BN. There is a federal compensation fund set up for this. BN is considered an on table injury and you can be compensated up to $250,000 for pain and suffering. So congratulations to those of you who have been diagnosed and good luck with the federal courts.

anon308105
Post 20

I'm one of those lucky guys who apparently has the hereditary form of the disease. The first attack was 20 years ago, and featured totally debilitating pain. My father had also had this condition, and his doctor suggested that it wasn't just tendinitis (as my doctor had diagnosed.) Ultimately, my father and I went to a medical school nearby where we were paraded in front of a neurology professor's class and asked to describe our pain.

The neurologist concluded by saying that this is "the most painful condition in neurology". The pain resolved in about a month, and the de-enervation of the shoulder muscles resolved in four or five months and I was back to normal.

It happened again to me 10 years or so ago, but on the right side in the back (with scapular winging), and ultimately resolved.

Now, it appears to be happening again. I awoke this morning (actually yesterday morning, but I haven't slept) with that same terrible pain in my shoulder (this time on the right side.) I hoped it was just that I slept wrong, but alas, the dreaded pain is back. I can't even think of sleeping as the pain dominates my consciousness. Some Tylenol with codeine did nothing. Absolutely nothing. At least I know what to expect.

anon307972
Post 19

Not sure if I have this or not. I have pain (especially when I cough) right near my right arm pit/upper arm area. In fact, it becomes very painful when I cough. Haven't been to a doctor yet because it's only been a couple days now.

anon287949
Post 18

I have not yet been diagnosed with BN, however, I had the Tdap vaccine due to an accident that required a tetanus shot and have not been the same since. This is a worker's comp related situation and the doctors are not moving very quickly. I am going on three weeks of having extreme pain and limited arm movement, fatigue, and loss of strength. I finally start PT tomorrow and will hopefully be approved for an MRI in about two weeks.

I have not slept through the night in about three weeks, due to the level of pain. When the medical assistant gave me the shot, it did not feel like a regular tetanus shot feels. I made a comment about how I didn't feel anything and that there was no pressure from the serum going into my arm. He was flattered and took it as a compliment.

The pain medication is only temporary and the heat patches don't work for me. I am now under the care of a pain doctor and he has given me some Lidoderm patches to try. You are supposed to wear them for about 11 hours and then take them off and wait 11-12 hours before putting on a new one. This has really helped to decrease the pain and I am able to move my arm a little bit more. Sorry to hear so many of us are suffering, but it helps me to know that I am not alone.

anon281864
Post 17

I was diagnosed with BN by my doc last week, after many tests. I have to go back to work and I'm afraid it will get worse. It started out with severe pain in my armpit, then numbness and tingling in my same arm. I also feel dizzy like my equilibrium is off. Does anyone know if I'm going to get worse?

anon281116
Post 16

I have been suffering from acute brachial neuritis now for 16 months. The initial onset came very rapidly and I have never experienced such acute pain in all my life.

The care I received in hospital was at best pretty awful. It took seven months before I was diagnosed properly and in that time the only treatment was for the pain management. I was literally dosed up with various types of morphine for best part of six months, until I realised the drugs were just making me ill.

I lost the use of my arms and hands, and one of my legs isn't that good either, and I still have little feeling in my hands and fingers, etc. So little is known about this condition that perhaps there ought to be a campaign to raise the awareness of this in the UK. I really wouldn't want anyone to suffer what I have been through and the consequences this awful illness has brought.

anon280420
Post 15

I have brachial neuritis as well. I had what I thought was merely a shoulder ache from moving furniture. It gradually got worse and to the point that no matter which way I moved or turned or rested, the pain remained. On the fifth day I awoke and was unable to lift my left arm. The doctor did an MRI, tried a shot for pain in my shoulder and finally sent me to an orthopedist.

The orthopedist asked me a few questions and then said does it hurt when I push here. It did and he knew what I had. This pain is the worst I have have experienced in my life. It is far worse than my kidney stones. I have found that heat helps somewhat as does Hydrocodone. Get them to give you the big dose. The little 350's don't begin to touch the pain.

My arm will only raise as high as my chest and no higher. There is numbness in my upper shoulder and the pain radiates like fire between the brachial plexus and the upper arm. It hurts all the time, regardless of position or angle. I had a flu shot this year, but that was months prior to this.

Also, I had just returned from three weeks in France. I have great sympathy for you all as I have never had such a debilitating illness.

anon246488
Post 14

I am in the same position as anon116213. I believe I have brachial neuritis and have been referred to a rheumatologist. Should I be seeing a doctor with a different specialty?

anon243157
Post 13

My cousin has this BN and is in excruciating pain. He has gone to see a practitioner that does natural medicine so we will see what the future holds.

If it were me, I would be seeing someone who does natural too, and not take any more vaccines as they are full of poisons and once they are in your body there is no turning back. He was told by his doctor and the natural practitioners that it was most likely the flu shot he got that caused this to happen. How sad is that?

anon242775
Post 12

I have been diagnosed with BN. I was in the hospital for another small procedure but developed high fever and after coming out of anesthesia, gradually developed severe pain in my left shoulder and neck area. I had the severe pain for about one month and it was treated with opiates.

Eventually, the pain subsided but I was left with severe weakness and a winged scapular and also the phrenic nerve to the left hemidiaphragm is affected and paralyzed.

I've been told to be patient as it could take three to four years to recover. I've been a runner for 20 years but have had to stop because of shortness of breath. I don't wish this condition on anyone.

anon230362
Post 11

Got a tDap at my school a week ago, and was sick three days later, with immense shoulder pain. I ditto Post 10. I am the school principal and thought I was doing the right thing!

I have been in severe pain since then and am now so very concerned that I'm in for years of pain and reduced ability. This is so disappointing and frustrating! The person giving me the immunization told me she had trouble getting the needle to go in. Great - I have a high pain tolerance but this is not a happy outcome!

anon228872
Post 10

I had a TDAP shot at the school where I work (tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough) in October and contracted Brachial Neuritis as a result.

I was told the shot would be painful for a couple of days, but on the fourth day I woke up with unbearable pain in my shoulder and bicep. I kept thinking it would go away but it only got worse.

Finally, I went to my GP on 10/26 and was prescribed prednisone for five days. They helped but the pain came back immediately.

I was referred to an orthopedist and a few days ago, I was diagnosed with Brachial Neuritis.

Last week, I had an MRI, and next week, I am scheduled to see a neurologist. The pain is absolutely the worst I have ever experienced. Pain medication only takes the edge off (and I have a high tolerance for pain). Another unfortunate side effect of such pain is that my BP is dangerously high, so now I'm on meds for that!

I work in the school system as a sign language interpreter. I got the shot thinking it was the right thing to do given the number of kids I come in contact with. What a horrible mistake! In addition, because the vaccination was considered "voluntary," the school worker's comp does not consider this as a coverable incident. I have spent over $650 thus far and I am not even done with the diagnostics! I am in incredible pain and I am cranky.

Anyway, it's validating to see other people sharing the same experiences.

anon225448
Post 9

My wife has just been diagnosed with Brachial Neuritis after a year of shoulder pain and a collapsed lung following 10 days in hospital with severe salmonella. Anyone know if the are any specialist doctors for this condition? Does acupuncture help? Can you cure it after one year?

anon207695
Post 8

Three weeks after I had a C-section, I just have all of the symptoms. Two weeks of sharp pain and then my right, upper arm was totally numb. My doctor said it's Brachial Neuritis.

It's been more then a year now and my arm is still numb. I'm so frustrated because I was a swimming instructor and now I just can't do my job like I did before.

anon205476
Post 7

I had shingles on my upper left arm that broke out in early June. I immediately lost control of my arm. I cannot lift my arm or go out from the side. I was diagnosed with Brachial Neuritis and am undergoing physical therapy to keep the muscles working, with very little progress. I have been told it can take a long time for the nerves to heal. The elbow bends so I am able to function.

I am taking neurontin for the pain. I would love to know another treatment. I am starting acupuncture next week.

anon203840
Post 6

I have been diagnosed with brachia neuritis, but have not been able to get much information about it, not even from the doctors.

It has been five weeks now and I'm not in pain anymore, have no strength in my left shoulder at all.

Tests are yet to be done on the cause of the problem, i am young female and was super fit at the time of onset.

Can i ask, has anyone else been really tired? Sleeping a lot, always fatigued and I am short of breath a lot of the time. Can anyone relate?

anon183308
Post 4

I was diagnosed with this after a couple of weeks at the end of April 2011. I had mild loss of strength in my right hand back in February. I had a whooping cough vaccination in late January. The pain in my neck and right shoulder came on mostly in one day at the end of April. Painkillers and steroids got me through two weeks of pain. End of May and all seems OK. Strength returned to hand and fingers and pain-free.

anon132897
Post 3

I started to experience an incredible pain in my left shoulder after receiving an immunization for tetanus, polio and whooping cough. The pain was gradually worse each day for a week until it became unbearable at night. I was diagnosed with possible brachial neuritis today. I am going for test tomorrow. Fortunately, my doctor recognized the symptoms.

anon122384
Post 2

I have just been diagnosed with Brachial Neuritis after waking up and not being able to move my right arm. The final diagnosis was made by EMG and I have fibromyalgia and other autoimmune diseases. It is very frustrating and painful and I'm a female 55. I have had some shortness of breath. I have been told therapy is the only treatment.

anon116213
Post 1

I am sure i have this condition. It started after a bad sickness virus. I have been referred to rheumatology but feel this may not be suitable? I have had the condition for nine weeks now my appointment is in 1 week. The terrible pain has gone now after first two to three weeks, but I still have a sensation/ache in between the shoulder blades.

I have winging of the shoulder blades and loss of some use/power in both shoulders, arms and hands. What sort of treatment should I expect and how long for the nerve damage to repair.

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