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What is the Brachial Nerve?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The brachial nerve, also known as the brachial plexus, is a system of spinal nerves that has its origins at the back of the neck. It then travels through the armpit under the clavicle and then down along the arm to give rise to the median, ulnar, and radial nerves. The nerves in the brahcial plexus range from the fifth cervical vertebra down to the first thoracic vertebra, commonly noted as C5-T1. C5 is the fifth vertebra down from the base of the skull and is located along the back of the neck.

A nerve plexus is any location on the body where nerves both branch and rejoin, and the brachial nerve is no exception. Beginning at the back of the neck with five root nerves, the nerves then group into three trunks, split into six divisions, regroup into three cords, and finally end as branches which lead to the nerves of the skin and muscles of the hand. The first such grouping happens near the base of the neck, as the nerves make their way across the body and toward the armpit.

The brachial plexus is prone to injury, usually due to large amounts of backward or downward force on the nerve plexus while a different part of the body is moving in the opposite direction. This intake of force stretches the brachial nerve, resulting in acute pain and possibly a loss of motion in the shoulder and arm. These injuries of the brachial nerve plexus are commonly known as burners or stingers. One of the most common causes of a brachial nerve injury is a hard hit in football or hockey, but injury can also result from a bad fall or forward roll.

Injuries of this type generally are not serious, but may require a soft collar to protect the neck. Rest for the injured side and a careful re-introduction to range-of-movement exercises usually are required, as well. Attempting to do too much too quickly can once again stretch the nerves.

These types of injuries are classed as brachial plexus neuritis or neuropathy, and can often be confused with neck injuries. A brachial nerve injury will present with more all-over pain, ranging up and down the arm, around the shoulder, and at the back of the neck. Most injuries of this type will heal themselves over time, often spontaneously, with recovery as high as 90 to 100 percent of original range of motion.

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Discussion Comments

By Armas1313 — On Mar 04, 2011


This would seem to be one of the wonders of humanity, in that our evolution has taken us to the point where we can function in a society and manipulate our surroundings using our advanced hand functions. Other animals do not have this capacity, and are reduced to basic arm and leg functions such as pouncing or grabbing nuts to eat.

By Qohe1et — On Mar 02, 2011

Feeling in the hand is also very delicate and is transmitted along these nerves to the brachial plexus and into the brain. Our hands function much like antennae on an insect, guarding our steps forward in the dark and ensuring that we know what we can and cannot touch due to temperature. Refining a sense of touch is one of the most important functions of infant maturity and learning to manipulate our surrounding using hands.

By hangugeo112 — On Feb 28, 2011

The ulnar nerve runs down the human arm, and originates in the brachial plexus. This ulnar nerve is what is affected when you hit your "funny bone" and feel a strange tingling in your elbow as a result. This is because, at the elbow, the ulnar nerve is between the bone and the skin, and is exposed to hard outside objects.

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