The brachial plexus is a network of nerves — cervical spinal nerves 5, 6, 7 and 8, as well as the first thoracic spinal nerve — that travel through the shoulder area to power muscles in your arms. While brachial plexus injuries are common during childbirth, they can also occur in adulthood.
According to a 2014 article published by ISRN Orthopedics, these injuries often occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents. They can also occur during sports activities.
Each nerve root in the brachial plexus branches off into more nerves that supply specific muscles, as explained in a February 2015 article published by Turkish Society of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Brachial plexus injury exercises are dictated by the specific nerves that are affected.
Consider seeing a physical therapist for an individualized exercise program if you have sustained a brachial plexus injury.
Read more: C7 Neck Exercises
1. Lateral Raises
The fifth cervical spinal nerve, called C5, primarily supplies muscles that perform shoulder abduction — lifting the shoulder out to the side. This nerve forms the top of the brachial plexus.
Perform lateral raises, as demonstrated by ExRx.net, to strengthen this movement.
- Stand up straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Holding a dumbbell in your hand, turn your thumb toward the ceiling.
- Lift your arm out to the side until it is parallel to the ground.
- Hold for two to three seconds, then slowly lower back down.
2. Biceps and Wrist Extension Curls
The C6 spinal nerve supplies muscles that perform elbow flexion and wrist extension. If this nerve is damaged, include biceps curls and wrist curls in your brachial plexus therapy exercises.
Move 1: Biceps Curls
- Hold a dumbbell and begin with your arm straight, resting by your side.
- Bend your elbow as far as possible. Hold for two to three seconds at the top of the movement.
- Slowly lower back down.
Move 2: Wrist Extension Curls
- Hold a dumbbell, lean forward and rest your forearm on your thigh.
- Place your opposite hand on top of your forearm to stabilize your arm.
- Lift your wrist up as high as possible, without your forearm leaving your thigh.
- Hold for two to three seconds, then lower back down.
3. Triceps Kickbacks
Muscles that perform elbow extension are primarily supplied by the C7 spinal nerve. Include triceps strengthening exercises in your brachial plexus therapy exercises.
- Hold a dumbbell in your hand.
- Kneel on a bench with the opposite leg.
- Bend forward and place your arm on the bench to support your body weight.
- Lift your affected arm until your upper arm is parallel to the ground with your elbow bent and hand pointed toward the ground.
- Keeping your elbow by your side, straighten your arm until your elbow is straight.
- Hold two to three seconds then slowly lower down.
4. Grip Strengthening
The C8 spinal nerve supplies muscles that flex your fingers, giving you grip strength. Hand gripping exercises can be performed with a variety of implements, such as putty or a stress ball.
- Squeeze a small ball for 30 seconds to one minute.
- Repeat several times per day.
Read more: Hand Grip Strength Test
5. Rubber Band Stretches
Muscles that abduct your fingers, or move them apart, can become weak with damage to the lower brachial plexus, including the T1 spinal nerve.
- Wrap a rubber band around your fingers, with the exception of your thumb.
- Spread your fingers apart and hold for two to three seconds.
- Slowly bring them back together and repeat for 10 repetitions.