Brachial plexus injury was observed as a complication in 5 of 12 hemiplegic patients admitted over a 5-week period to an inpatient unit of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. These patients exhibited unusual patterns of muscle atrophy and return of function in the impaired upper extremity. Occupational therapists may play an important part in the diagnosis and treatment of this complication of hemiplegia by promptly recognizing its subtle clinical signs and instituting appropriate therapy. Electromyography may be recommended to confirm this diagnosis.
The treatment of choice is to maintain correct positioning of the limb both day and night, to use facilitation techniques for specific muscles in order to prevent atrophy, and to maintain passive range of motion as much as possible. Prevention of brachial plexus injury depends largely on the education of patient, family, and staff as to the potential hazards to a frail extremity that has no protective responses.