Brachial Plexus Program | Glossary

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This reference guide provides definitions for health terms that you may hear if your child is being treated for brachial plexus birth palsy. 

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A thin, fiberoptic scope introduced into a joint for diagnostic and treatment procedures inside the joint; can be used in shoulder repair in brachial plexus birth palsy (BPBP) (see open reduction shoulder joint below)

A detached tear; in brachial plexus birth palsy (BPBP), a tear of the nerve at, and from, the spinal cord

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A highly purified preparation of botulism toxin; used as treatment for BPBP to help with joint motion, rebalance muscles and prevent contractures and shoulder dislocations

Brachial plexus
A complex network of nerves between the neck and shoulders. These nerves control muscle function in the chest, shoulder, arms and hands, as well as sensibility (feeling) in the upper limbs

Brachial plexus birth palsy (BPBP)
An injury (stretch, compression or tear) to all or part of the brachial plexus nerve complex; occurs during childbirth; can result in loss of muscle function or paralysis of upper arm

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Erb’s palsy
Former name (sometimes still used) for one of the patterns of nerve injury in BPBP—an injury to any or all of the C5-C6-C7 vertebrae; accounts for roughly 60 to 70 percent of BPBP injuries; typically results in weakness involving the muscles of the shoulder and biceps

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Free muscle transfer
A microsurgical option for treating brachial plexus birth palsy(BPBP) that transfers muscle tissue, usually from the gracilis muscle in the patient’s thigh, to the affected brachial plexus area to restore flexion and extension functions in elbow, wrist and fingers

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Horner’s syndrome
One of the patterns of brachial plexus birth palsy nerve injury; associated with an avulsion (see avulsion above); involves injury to the sympathetic chain of nerves; can indicate more severe injuries of the brachial plexus

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Klumpke’s palsy
One of the patterns of brachial plexus birth palsy nerve injury; involves injury to the lower roots of the brachial plexus; almost never seen in babies and children

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MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Produces detailed images of organs and structures within the body; shows the amount of damage to the brachial plexus

Surgery performed on extremely small structures or cells of the body using a microscope and other instruments

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Nerve conduction studies (NCS, nerve conduction velocity, NCV, electromyography, EMG)
A two-part test consisting of nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG). EMG can evaluate nerve disorders such as brachial plexus injuries (Erb’s palsies and avulsion injuries)

Nerve graft
A microsurgical procedure in which the damaged segment of an injured nerve is removed, and a segment of nerve from the leg (usually sural) is attached to the remaining healthy section of the nerve

Nerve transfer
A microsurgical procedure in which the damaged segment of an injured nerve is removed, and a segment of nerve from another area of the brachial plexus (or another area of the body) is attached to the remaining healthy section of the nerve; often used for avulsions (see avulsion above)

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Open reduction shoulder joint
Placing the humeral head back in the joint (glenoid) and then surgically tightening loose tissue around the shoulder joint; can be performed through surgical incision or using arthroscopy

The medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, treating, rehabilitating and preventing disorders and injuries to the spine, skeletal system and associated muscles, joints and ligaments

Orthopedic surgeon, orthopedist
A doctor who specializes in surgical and non-surgical treatment of the skeletal system, spine and associated muscles, joints and ligaments

Controlled breaking or cutting and realigning of bone into correct position; may improve upper extremity function; often used when shoulder weakness and/or joint deformity cause limitations in motion that are not amenable to tendon transfers

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Physical therapy
A rehabilitative health specialty that uses therapeutic exercises and equipment to help patients improve or regain muscle strength, mobility and other physical capabilities

Post-operative (post-op)
Occurring after surgery

Pre-operative (pre-op)
Occurring before surgery

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Reconstructive surgery
Surgery performed to repair and/or restore a body part to normal or as near normal as possible

In brachial plexus birth palsy, a tear of the nerve, but not where it attaches to the spine; can be repaired surgically

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Stretch (neurapraxia)
A type of brachial plexus birth palsy in which the nerve has been stretched but not torn; the most common form; affected nerve may recover on its own

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A band of tough, inelastic fibrous tissue that connects a muscle with its bony attachment

Tendon transfer
A surgical procedure that involves separating a tendon from its normal attachment and reattaching it to a new location, often improving shoulder and wrist motion as well as elbow position and hand grip

Total plexus involvement
A brachial plexus birth palsy (BPBP) of the C5-T1 vertebrae; accounts for roughly 20 to 30 percent of brachial plexus birth palsy

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“Waiter’s tip” position
A sign of brachial plexus birth palsy; baby’s hand is turned away from the body

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Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
For Referring Providers: 844-BCH-PEDS | 844-224-7337