Anatomy, imaging, and pathologic conditions of the brachial plexus

Brian M. Gilcrease-Garcia, Swati D. Deshmukh, Matthew S. Parsons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The brachial plexus is an intricate anatomic structure with an important function: providing innervation to the upper extremity, shoulder, and upper chest. Owing to its complex form and longitudinal course, the brachial plexus can be challenging to conceptualize in three dimensions, which complicates evaluations in standard orthogonal imaging planes. The components of the brachial plexus can be determined by using key anatomic landmarks. Applying this anatomic knowledge, a radiologist should then be able to identify pathologic appearances of the brachial plexus by using imaging modalities such as MRI, CT, and US. Brachial plexopathies can be divided into two broad categories that are based on disease origin: traumatic and nontraumatic. In the traumatic plexopathy group, there are distinct imaging findings and management methods for pre-versus postganglionic injuries. For nontraumatic plexopathies, having access to an accurate patient history is often crucial. Knowledge of the timing of radiation therapy is critical to diagnosing post–radiation therapy brachial plexopathy. In acute brachial neuritis, antecedent stressors occur within a specific time frame. Primary and secondary tumors of the brachial plexus are not uncommon, with the most common primary tumors being peripheral nerve sheath tumors. Direct extension and metastasis from primary malignancies such as breast and lung cancer can occur. Although diagnosing a brachial plexus anomaly is potentially perplexing, it can be straightforward if it is based on foundational knowledge of anatomy, imaging findings, and pathologic features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1686-1714
Number of pages29
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 2020


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