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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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The brachial plexus represents the elaborate network of nerves that start at the spine, move through the arms, and reach the end of the neural journey at the juncture of the neck and shoulder. Other nerves connect to the vital nerve network to affect the control and movement of the hands, elbows, arms, and shoulders. The severity of an injury to upper limb nerves determines the result of a palsy diagnosis.

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Causes of an Injury to the Brachial Plexus

The vast majority of infant and adult injuries derive from the onset of trauma. However, the type of trauma differs between newborns and adults.

Infants suffer from damage to the muscles nerves located in the arm and shoulder from a condition known as shoulder dystocia. During birth delivery, one or both shoulders become stuck inside of the birth canal, which causes the shoulder muscle nerve to stretch or rip apart. Blunt force trauma by a violent impact in a contact sport damages muscles nerves of one or both arms and shoulders. Inflammation of the upper limb muscle nerves creates a medical condition called plexitis. A brachial plexus palsy diagnosis can also include a reference to prolonged exposure to frequent doses of radiation, which most cancer patients endure. The worst cases of arm and shoulder muscle nerve damage occur after a violent car or motorcycle accident.

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Methods Used for a Diagnosis

The diagnosis of palsy requires health care professionals to detect the symptoms of the medical condition and then conduct a physical examination that confirms the initial diagnosis. For infants that suffer from arm and shoulder nerve damage, doctors typically make a diagnosis when they see an infant’s head move out of the womb, but the shoulders fail to follow the lead of the head.

Diagnosis of a brachial plexus injury includes the implementation of one or more of the following diagnostic procedures.

Nerve Conduction Review

This diagnostic tool for arm and shoulder muscle nerve damage calculates the speed of nerve conduction for a small amount of electricity that is transmitted through the arm into the shoulder. The rate of conduction provides health care professionals with an idea on how efficient the brachial plexus is performing. Doctors typically use nerve conduction reviews as the starting point for performing a diagnosis.


Health care professionals that perform an electromyography stick an electrode needle through the skin at the arm and/or shoulder. The diagnostic method to detect nerve damage registers the level of electricity that moves through the arm and shoulder during contraction, as well as when the muscles remain inert. Many doctors use an EMG to confirm the results of a nerve conduction review.


Magnetic resonance imaging examines small sections of the body through the use of magnets and powerful radio waves. The procedure isolates areas of the arm and shoulder that have experienced muscle nerve trauma. Doctors implement MRI scanning after the initial diagnosis to determine the extent of the muscle nerve damage.


Computerized tomography consists of several x-rays that scan cross sections of the arm and shoulder. The complex technology that drives a CT captures the nerve activity in cross sections of arm and shoulder muscles. Health care professionals use a CT to receive more information about damage to the nerves attached to the spinal cord.

The key to an accurate diagnosis is to detect one or more symptoms promptly. Any delay in determining the presence of palsy places patients at risk of incurring long lasting debilitating medical ailments.