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. 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:
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:
In some cases, no cause can be found.
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:
Depending on the cause of the nerve disorder, some people do not need treatment. They get better on their own. 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:
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.
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 periods. 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
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.
Updated by: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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