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Brachial plexus – treatment, care & rehabilitation

Predicting the recovery process of a brachial plexus injury is incredibly difficult, due to the complexity of the nervous system and the diverse nature of BPI cases.

A patient’s recovery will depend on the type of brachial plexus injury and the severity of it.

An accurate prognosis can only be provided if the individual is assessed by a medical professional. Depending on the result of the assessment, a number of treatment, care and rehabilitation options will be available.

Here we will an overview of the treatment of brachial plexus injuries and the complications which can arise, following an injury. We will also explain the impact a BPI can have on the victim’s lifestyle and provide a glimpse into the rehabilitation process.

Brachial plexus injury treatment

While some nerve injuries can correct themselves in time, others require significant intervention. Non surgical treatment, of course, is common even when surgery is not required. A course of rehabilitation is a form on non surgical treatment, which is always required to aid the recovery process and help the injured person having sustained a nerve injury to regain as much functionality and mobility as possible.

Surgical treatment for brachial plexus injuries depends on the type of BPI and the severity. The primary types of brachial plexus surgery include:

  • Nerve graft – sections of nerve are harvested from elsewhere in the body and used to replaced damage nerve sections

  • Nerve transfer – replacing a nerve which is torn from the spinal cord with a less important nerve from elsewhere in the body

  • Muscle transfer – replacing a key arm muscle with a less important muscle or tendon from elsewhere in the body

Complications of BPI

While many brachial plexus injuries can heal without lasting damage, some can cause long term, or life-long, complications, including:

  • Stiff joints – temporary paralysis can cause joints to stiffen

  • Pain

  • Loss of feeling – patients can burn or cut themselves without realising it

  • Muscle atrophy – lack of use during recovery can cause muscles to break down

  • Permanent disability

Impact on lifestyle

When an injury results in a lengthy recovery, or permanent disability, it can affect the injured person’s ability to earn a living, but that isn’t all. The impact on their lifestyle can be substantial, even if an injury does not have lifelong consequences.

Permanent disabilities may leave the injured person in need of lifelong care and where people are able to regain some of their independence they may still rely on home adaptations, adapted cars and other mobility aids.

Rehabilitation for brachial plexus injuries

Improvements can occur slowly with brachial plexus injuries and the recovery and rehabilitation process can take many years.

In estimating recovery time, a number of factors have to be taken into account, including the severity of the injury and the nature of any surgery which was required. Recovery chances are improved by courses of physical or occupational therapy. This kind of therapy can be essential when dealing with brachial plexus injuries as they will prevent the onset of muscle atrophy.

Patients are encouraged to perform exercises which engage the nerves and also allow muscles to function. Stretching is also important as it can improve range of motion and also increased the flow of blood to the injured area.

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