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Brachial plexus

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Title: Brachial plexus  
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Subject: Thoracic outlet syndrome, Medial cord, Posterior cord, Thoracodorsal nerve, Arm
Collection: Nerve Plexus, Nerves of the Upper Limb
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Brachial plexus

Brachial plexus
The right brachial plexus with its short branches, viewed from in front.
Latin plexus brachialis
From C5, C6, C7, C8, T1
Innervates Sensory and motor innervation to the upper limb
MeSH A08.800.800.720.050
Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves, running from the spine, formed by the anterior rami of the lower four cervical nerves and first thoracic nerve (C5C8, T1). The brachial plexus passes through the cervicoaxillary canal in the neck to reach the axilla (armpit region), and into the arm including the hand, innervating these regions.


  • Structure 1
    • Roots 1.1
    • Trunks 1.2
    • Divisions 1.3
    • Cords 1.4
    • Branches 1.5
    • Diagram 1.6
    • Specific branches 1.7
  • Function 2
  • Clinical significance 3
    • Injury 3.1
      • Definition 3.1.1
      • Motorcycle accidents 3.1.2
      • Injuries during birth 3.1.3
    • Imaging 3.2
    • In anaesthetics 3.3
  • Additional images 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The brachial plexus is divided into roots, trunks, divisions, cords, and branches. There are five "terminal" branches and numerous other "pre-terminal" or "collateral" branches that leave the plexus at various points along its length.


The five roots are the five anterior rami of the spinal nerves, after they have given off their segmental supply to the muscles of the neck. The brachial plexus emerges at five different levels; C5, C6, C7, C8, and T1. Prefixed or postfixed formations in some cases involve C4 or T2, respectively.


These roots merge to form three trunks:


Each trunk then splits in two, to form six divisions:

  • anterior divisions of the upper, middle, and lower trunks
  • posterior divisions of the upper, middle, and lower trunks


These six divisions regroup to become the three cords. The cords are named by their position with respect to the axillary artery.

  • The posterior cord is formed from the three posterior divisions of the trunks (C5-C8,T1)
  • The lateral cord is formed from the anterior divisions of the upper and middle trunks (C5-C7)
  • The medial cord is simply a continuation of the anterior division of the lower trunk (C8,T1)


The branches are listed below. Most branch from the cords, but a few branch (indicated in italics) directly from earlier structures. The five on the left are considered "terminal branches". There have been several variations reported in the branching pattern but these are very rare.[1]


Anatomical illustration of the brachial plexus with areas of roots, trunks, divisions and cords marked. Clicking on names of branches will link to their WorldHeritage entry.

Specific branches


indicates primary spinal root component of nerve. Italics indicate spinal roots that frequently, but not always, contribute to the nerve.

From Nerve Roots[2] Muscles Cutaneous
roots dorsal scapular nerve C4, C5 rhomboid muscles and levator scapulae -
roots long thoracic nerve C5, C6, C7 serratus anterior -
roots branch to phrenic nerve C5 Diaphragm -
upper trunk nerve to the subclavius C5, C6 subclavius muscle -
upper trunk suprascapular nerve C5, C6 supraspinatus and infraspinatus -
lateral cord lateral pectoral nerve C5, C6, C7 pectoralis major and pectoralis minor (by communicating with the medial pectoral nerve) -
lateral cord musculocutaneous nerve C5, C6, C7 coracobrachialis, brachialis and biceps brachii becomes the lateral cutaneous nerve of the forearm
lateral cord lateral root of the median nerve C5, C6, C7 fibres to the median nerve -
posterior cord upper subscapular nerve C5, C6 subscapularis (upper part) -
posterior cord thoracodorsal nerve (middle subscapular nerve) C6, C7, C8 latissimus dorsi -
posterior cord lower subscapular nerve C5, C6 subscapularis (lower part ) and teres major -
posterior cord axillary nerve C5, C6 anterior branch: deltoid and a small area of overlying skin
posterior branch: teres minor and deltoid muscles
posterior branch becomes upper lateral cutaneous nerve of the arm
posterior cord radial nerve C5, C6, C7, C8, T1 triceps brachii, supinator, anconeus, the extensor muscles of the forearm, and brachioradialis skin of the posterior arm as the posterior cutaneous nerve of the arm. Also superficial branch of radial nerve supplies back of the hand, including the web of skin between the thumb and index finger.
medial cord medial pectoral nerve C8, T1 pectoralis major and pectoralis minor -
medial cord medial root of the median nerve C8, T1 fibres to the median nerve portions of hand not served by ulnar or radial
medial cord medial cutaneous nerve of the arm C8, T1 - front and medial skin of the arm
medial cord medial cutaneous nerve of the forearm C8, T1 - medial skin of the forearm
medial cord ulnar nerve C8, T1 flexor carpi ulnaris, the medial two bellies of flexor digitorum profundus, the intrinsic hand muscles except the thenar muscles and the two most lateral lumbricals the skin of the medial side of the hand and medial one and a half fingers on the palmar side and medial two and a half fingers on the dorsal side


The brachial plexus is responsible for cutaneous and muscular innervation of the entire upper limb, with two exceptions: the trapezius muscle innervated by the spinal accessory nerve (CN XI) and an area of skin near the axilla innervated by the intercostobrachial nerve.

Lesions can lead to severe functional impairment.[3]

Clinical significance


Brachial plexus injury affects cutaneous sensations and movements in the upper limb. They can be caused by stretching, diseases, and wounds to the lateral cervical region (posterior triangle) of the neck or the axilla. Depending on the location of the injury, the signs and symptoms can range from complete paralysis to anesthesia. Testing the patient's ability to perform movements and comparing it to their normal side is a method to assess the degree of paralysis. A common brachial plexus injury is from a hard landing where the shoulder widely separates from the neck (such as in the case of motorcycle accidents or falling from a tree). These stretches can cause ruptures to the superior portions of the brachial plexus or avulse the roots from the spinal cord. Upper brachial plexus injuries are frequent in newborns when excessive stretching of the neck occurs during delivery. Studies have shown a relationship between birth weight and brachial plexus injuries; however, the number of cesarean deliveries necessary to prevent a single injury is high at most birth weights.[4] For the upper brachial plexus injuries, paralysis occurs in those muscles supplied by C5 and C6 like the deltoid, biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis. A loss of sensation in the lateral aspect of the upper limb is also common with such injuries. An inferior brachial plexus injury is far less common, but can occur when a person grasps something to break a fall or a baby's upper limb is pulled excessively during delivery. In this case, the short muscles of the hand would be affected and cause the inability to form a full fist position.[5]

To differentiate between pre ganglionic and post ganglionic injury, clinical examination requires that the physician keep the following points in mind. Pre ganglionic injuries cause loss of sensation above the level of the clavicle, pain in an otherwise insensate hand, ipsilateral Horner's syndrome, and loss of function of muscles supplied by branches arising directly from roots—i.e., long thoracic nerve palsy leading to winging of scapula and elevation of ipsilateral diaphragm due to phrenic nerve palsy.

Acute brachial plexus neuritis is a neurological disorder that is characterized by the onset of severe pain in the shoulder region. Additionally, the compression of cords can cause pain radiating down the arm, numbness, paresthesia, erythema, and weakness of the hands. This kind of injury is common for people who have prolonged hyperabduction of the arm when they are performing tasks above their head.


Brachial plexus injuries are injuries that affect the nerves that carry signals from the spine to the shoulder.[6] This can be caused by the shoulder being pushed down and the head being pulled up, which stretches or tears the nerves. Injuries associated with malpositioning commonly affect the brachial plexus nerves, rather than other peripheral nerve groups.[7][8] Due to the brachial plexus nerves being very sensitive to position, there are very limited ways of preventing such injuries. The most common victims of brachial plexus injuries consist of victims of motor vehicle accidents and newborns.

Motorcycle accidents

Motorcyclists who are involved in accidents are very susceptible to brachial plexus injuries due to the nature of the collision. "Brachial plexus injuries were identified in 54 of 4538 patients presenting to a regional trauma facility… Motor vehicle accidents were the most frequent cause overall."[9]

Many of these patients were forced to undergo reconstructive surgery. During physical therapy, the position of the brachial plexus became very important to avoid further damage.[10] "The risk can be reduced by thorough release of the tissues from the inferior surface of the clavicle before mobilization of the fracture fragments."[4] By wearing protective gear, like a helmet, a motorcyclist can help prevent nerve damage after collisions.

In this photo, the subject performs an example of a motorcyclist colliding with the floor at an angle, which may damage the brachial plexus nerves. The photo shows how head and shoulder are extremely separated, which may stretch or even tear the nerves in the between area. Protective gear can help prevent nerve damage by providing extra support on the opposite side of the head to prevent over-stretching the neck.

Injuries during birth

Brachial Plexus injuries also become an issue during the delivery of newborns. "…there were 80 brachial plexus injuries identified, for an incidence of 1–3 per 1000 live birth."[7] Nerve damage has been connected to birth weight with larger newborns being more susceptible to the injury but it also has to do with the delivery methods. Although very hard to prevent during live birth, doctors must be able to deliver a newborn with precise and gentle movements to decrease chances of injuring the child.


Imaging of the Brachial Plexus can be done effectively by using a higher magnetic strength MRI Scanner like 1.5 T or more. It is impossible to evaluate the brachial plexuses with plain Xray, CT and ultrasound scanning can manage to view the plexuses to an extent; hence MRI is preferred in imaging brachial plexus over other imaging modalities due to its multiplanar capability and the tissue contrast difference between brachial plexus and adjacent vessels. The plexuses are best imaged in coronal and sagittal planes, but axial images give an idea about the nerve roots. Generally, T1 WI and T2 WI images are used in various planes for the imaging; but new sequences like MR Myelolography, Fiesta 3D and T2 cube are also used in addition to the basic sequences to gather more information to evaluate the anatomy more.

In anaesthetics

Additional images


  1. ^ Goel, Shivi; Rustagi, SM; Kumar, A; Mehta, V; Suri, RK (Mar 13, 2014). "Multiple unilateral variations in medial and lateral cords of brachial plexus and their branches". Anatomy & Cell Biology 47 (1): 77–80.  
  2. ^ Moore, K.L.; Agur, A.M. (2007). Essential Clinical Anatomy (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 430–1.  
  3. ^ Moore, K.L.; Agur, A.M. (2007). Essential Clinical Anatomy (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 434–5.  
  4. ^ a b Ecker, Jeffrey L.; Greenberg, James A.; Norwitz, Errol R.; Nadel, Allan S.; Repke, John T. (1997). "Birth Weight as a Predictor of Brachial Plexus Injury". Obstetrics & Gynecology 89 (5): 643–47.  
  5. ^ Moore, Keith (2006). Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 778–81.  
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Cooper, DE; Jenkins, RS; Bready, L; Rockwood Jr, CA (1988). "The prevention of injuries of the brachial plexus secondary to malposition of the patient during surgery". Clinical orthopaedics and related research (228): 33–41.  
  8. ^ Jeyaseelan, L.; Singh, V. K.; Ghosh, S.; Sinisi, M.; Fox, M. (2013). "Iatropathic brachial plexus injury: A complication of delayed fixation of clavicle fractures". The Bone & Joint Journal 95–B (1): 106–10.  
  9. ^ Midha, Rajiv (1997). "Epidemiology of Brachial Plexus Injuries in a Multitrauma Population". Neurosurgery 40 (6): 1182–8; discussion 1188–9.  
  10. ^

External links

  • Brachial Plexus and Its Injury| Medchrome
  • lesson3brachialplexus at The Anatomy Lesson by Wesley Norman (Georgetown University)
  • Brachial Plexus Injury/Illustration, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
  • Learn the Brachial Plexus in Five Minutes or Less by Daniel S. Romm, M.D. and Dennis A. Chu Chu, M.D. [2]
  • Video of the dissected axilla and Brachial Plexus
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