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.
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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.