Click here to return to the LMHS Home Page

 

Print-Friendly
Bookmarks

Axillary nerve dysfunction

Neuropathy - axillary nerve

 

Axillary nerve dysfunction is nerve damage that leads to a loss of movement or sensation in the shoulder.

Causes

 

Axillary nerve dysfunction is a form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the axillary nerve. This is the nerve that helps control the deltoid muscles of the shoulder and the skin around it. A problem with just one nerve, such as the axillary nerve, is called mononeuropathy.

The usual causes are:

  • Direct injury
  • Long-term pressure on the nerve
  • Pressure on the nerve from nearby body structures
  • Shoulder injury

Entrapment creates pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.

The damage can destroy the myelin sheath that covers the nerve or part of the nerve cell (the axon). Damage of either type reduces or prevents the movement of signals through the nerve.

Conditions that can lead to axillary nerve dysfunction include:

  • Body-wide (systemic) disorders that cause nerve inflammation
  • Deep infection
  • Fracture of the upper arm bone (humerus)
  • Pressure from casts or splints
  • Improper use of crutches
  • Shoulder dislocation

In some cases, no cause can be found.

 

Symptoms

 

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Numbness over part of the outer shoulder
  • Shoulder weakness, especially when lifting the arm up and away from the body

 

Exams and Tests

 

Your health care provider will examine your neck, arm, and shoulder. Weakness of the shoulder can cause difficulty moving your arm.

The deltoid muscle of the shoulder may show signs of muscle atrophy.

Tests that may be used to check axillary nerve dysfunction include:

  • EMG and nerve conduction tests, will be normal right after the injury and should be done several weeks after the injury or symptoms start
  • MRI or x-rays of the shoulder

 

Treatment

 

Depending on the cause of the nerve disorder, some people do not need treatment. The problem gets better on its own. The rate of recovery can be different for everyone. It can take many months to recover.

Anti-inflammatory medicines may be given if you have:

  • Sudden symptoms
  • Small changes in sensation or movement
  • No history of injury to the area
  • No signs of nerve damage

These medicines reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve. They may be injected directly into the area or taken by mouth.

Other medicines include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines may be helpful for mild pain (neuralgia).
  • Other medicines may reduce stabbing pain.
  • Opiate pain relievers may be needed to control severe pain.

If your symptoms continue or get worse, you may need surgery. If a trapped nerve is causing your symptoms, surgery to release the nerve may help you feel better.

Physical therapy can help maintain muscle strength. Job changes, muscle retraining, or other forms of therapy may be recommended.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

It may be possible to make a full recovery if the cause of the axillary nerve dysfunction can be identified and successfully treated.

 

Possible Complications

 

Complications may include:

  • Deformity of the arm, shoulder contracture, or frozen shoulder
  • Partial loss of sensation in the arm (uncommon)
  • Partial shoulder paralysis
  • Repeated injury to the arm

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of axillary nerve dysfunction. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chance of controlling symptoms.

 

Prevention

 

Preventive measures vary, depending on the cause. Avoid putting pressure on the underarm area for long periods. Make sure casts, splints, and other appliances fit properly. When you use crutches, learn how to avoid putting pressure on the underarm.

 

 

References

Steinmann SP, Spinner RJ. Nerve problems about the shoulder. In: Rockwood CA, Matsen FA III, Wirth MA, et al., eds. The Shoulder. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 27.

Taylor KF. Nerve entrapment. In: In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 58.

BACK TO TOPText only

 
  • Damaged axillary nerve

    Damaged axillary nerve

    illustration

    • Damaged axillary nerve

      Damaged axillary nerve

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Self Care

       

        Tests for Axillary nerve dysfunction

         
         

        Review Date: 2/3/2015

        Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
        adam.com

         
         
         

         

         

        A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.