Lipomas of the Brachial Plexus: A Case Series and Review of the Literature

Hand (N Y). 2019 May;14(3):333-338. doi: 10.1177/1558944717735946. Epub 2017 Oct 23.


Background: Lipomas are common benign tumors. When they develop in proximity to peripheral nerves, they can cause neurologic symptoms secondary to mass effect. Previous reports have shown symptom resolution after removal of lipomas compressing various upper extremity peripheral nerves. However, brachial plexus lipomas are relatively rare. Our multidisciplinary experience with brachial plexus lipoma resection is reviewed in the largest case series to date.

Methods: A retrospective chart review of all patients undergoing resection of brachial plexus lipomatous tumors between 2006 and 2016 was performed. Patient demographic data, diagnostic imaging, clinical presentation, operative details, surgical pathology, and clinical outcomes were reviewed.

Results: Twelve brachial plexus lipomatous tumors were resected in 11 patients: 10 lipomas, 1 hibernoma, and 1 atypical lipomatous tumor. The most common tumor location was supraclavicular (50%), followed by axillary (42%), and proximal medial arm (8%). The most common brachial plexus segment involved was the upper trunk (50%), followed by posterior cord (25%), lateral pectoral nerve (8%), lower trunk (8%), and proximal median nerve (8%). Most patients presented with an enlarging painless mass (58%). Of the patients who presented with neurologic symptoms, symptoms resolved in the majority (80%).

Conclusions: Brachial plexus lipomas are rare causes of compression neuropathy in the upper extremity. Careful resection and knowledge of brachial plexus anatomy, which may be distorted by the tumor, are critical to achieving a successful surgical outcome with predictable symptom resolution. Finally, surveillance magnetic resonance imaging may be warranted for atypical lesions.

Keywords: brachial plexus; lipoma; nerve compression; soft tissue mass; tumor; upper extremity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthrogryposis / etiology
  • Arthrogryposis / physiopathology
  • Brachial Plexus / anatomy & histology
  • Brachial Plexus / pathology*
  • Female
  • Hereditary Sensory and Motor Neuropathy / etiology
  • Hereditary Sensory and Motor Neuropathy / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Lipoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Lipoma / surgery*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity / innervation
  • Upper Extremity / pathology*

Supplementary concepts

  • Tomaculous neuropathy