Axillary nerve dysfunction is nerve damage that leads to a loss of movement or sensation in the shoulder.
Axillary nerve dysfunction is a form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the axillary nerve, which supplies 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:
Entrapment creates pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.
The damage may 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 impulses through the nerve.
Conditions that can lead to axillary nerve dysfunction include:
In some cases, no cause can be found.
Your health care provider will examine your neck, arm, and shoulder. Weakness of the shoulder may cause difficulty moving your arm.
The deltoid muscle of the shoulder may show signs of muscle atrophy.
Tests that may be used to evaluate axillary nerve dysfunction include:
Depending on the cause of the nerve disorder, some people do not need treatment. They will get better on their own. However, the rate of recovery can be different for everyone. It can take many months to recover.
Anti-inflammatory medications may be given if you have:
These medicines reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve. They may be injected directly into the area or taken by mouth.
Other medicines include:
Whenever possible, avoid or reduce medication use to lessen the risk of side effects.
If your symptoms continue or get worse, you may need surgery. Surgery may be done to see if a trapped nerve is causing your symptoms. In this case, surgery to release the nerve may help you feel better.
Physical therapy may help you maintain muscle strength. Job changes, muscle retraining, or other forms of therapy may be recommended.
It may be possible to make a full recovery if the cause of the axillary nerve dysfunction can be identified and successfully treated.
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.
Preventive measures vary, depending on the cause. Avoid putting pressure on the underarm area for a long period of time. Make sure casts, splints, and other appliances fit properly. When you use crutches, learn how to avoid putting pressure on the underarm.
Neuropathy - axillary nerve
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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