Axillary nerve dysfunction is the lack of normal electrical transmission through the axillary nerve, which activates the shoulder muscles.
The most common complaint is shoulder weakness, especially when lifting the arm out from the side of the body. Sometimes the shoulder can still go through a full range of motion, although with less power. Within weeks of the injury, the muscle over the outside of the shoulder will become noticeably smaller. The skin over the shoulder may also become numb.
This type of injury usually occurs when the axillary nerve is stretched or pinched. The stretching or pinching is usually caused by a shoulder dislocation, surgery, or a bone fracture.
The best prevention is to be take the proper precautions to avoid injury. Sports safety guidelines should be followed by children, adolescents, and adults.
Axillary nerve dysfunction is usually diagnosed when the healthcare professional examines the individual and listens to the history of the problem. The nerve injury can be confirmed by electrical testing, such as electromyography (EMG), of the muscles involved.
In most cases, recovery occurs on its own within several months. Physical therapy helps to maintain the full range of motion of the shoulder and to strengthen surrounding muscles. If there are no signs of recovery after 3 to 4 months, surgery may be needed. If the nerve function cannot be restored, other options include muscle transfer or fusion of the shoulder.
Surgery can be complicated by infection, bleeding, or reactions to the anesthesia.
An exercise program to maintain shoulder flexibility and strength should be continued after treatment. The return of sensation and motion should be monitored, and any worsening of symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.