Object: The authors focus on injury mechanisms involved in 1019 operative brachial plexus injuries (BPIs) managed between 1968 and 1998 at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC).
Methods: Data regarding these mechanisms of injury were obtained via retrospective chart reviews of patients who had undergone operations at LSUHSC. Five main mechanisms of injury to the brachial plexus occurred in the series. These included 509 stretch/contusion injuries (49%) with four patterns of presentation in 366 patients: 208 C5-T1 nerve injuries; 75 C5-7, 55 C5-6 injuries; and 28 involving the C8-T1 or C7-T1 nerves. Stretch/contusion injury was followed in frequency by gunshot wound (GSW), resulting in 118 injuries (12%). Most of the 293 involved plexus elements had some gross continuity when surgically exposed. Seventy-one lacerations involved the brachial plexus (7%), including 83 sharp lacerations caused by knives or glass; 61 blunt transections due to automobile metal, fan, and motor blades, chain saws, or animal bites. Nontraumatic BPIs included 160 cases of thoracic outlet syndrome or 16% of the total of 1019 BPIs. There were 161 tumors (16%) of neural sheath origin including 55 solitary neurofibromas (34%), 32 neurofibromas associated with von Recklinghausen disease (20%), 54 schwannomas (34%), and 20 malignant nerve sheath tumors (20%) removed. Obstetrical BPI was not included in the original series; however, the current literature is reviewed in this paper.
Conclusions: The conclusion of this study is that the brachial plexus can be injured by multiple mechanisms of which stretch/contusion injury is the most frequently encountered, followed by GSWs.