Sonographic evaluation of branchial plexus pathology

Moshe Graif, Carlo Martinoli, Shimon Rochkind, Anat Blank, Leonor Trejo, Judith Weiss, Ada Kessler, Lorenzo E. Derchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Pre-operative US examinations of the brachial plexus were performed with the purpose of exploring the potential of this technique in recognizing lesions in the region and defining their sonographic morphology, site, extent, and relations to adjacent anatomic structures, and comparing them to the surgical findings to obtain maximal confirmation. Twenty-eight patients with clinical, electro-conductive, and imaging findings suggestive of brachial plexus pathology were included in this study. There were four main etiology groups: post-traumatic brachial plexopathies; primary tumors (benign and malignant); secondary tumors; and post irradiation injuries. Twenty-one of the 28 patients underwent surgery. Advanced imaging (mostly MRI) served as an alternative gold standard for confirmation of the findings in the non-surgically treated group of patients. The US examinations were performed with conventional US units operating at 5- to 10-MHz frequencies. The nerves were initially localized at the level of the vertebral foramina and then were followed longitudinally and axially down to the axillary region. Abnormal US findings were detected in 20 of 28 patients. Disruption of nerve continuity and focal scar tissue masses were the principal findings in the post-traumatic cases. Focal masses within a nerve or adjacent to it and diffuse thickening of the nerve were the findings in primary and secondary tumors. Post-irradiation changes presented as nerve thickening. Color Doppler was useful in detecting internal vascularization within masses and relation of a mass to adjacent vessels. The eight sonographically negative cases consisted either of traumatic neuromas smaller than 12 mm in size and located in relatively small branches of posterior location or due to fibrotic changes of diffuse nature. Sonography succeeded in depicting a spectrum of lesions of traumatic, neoplastic, and inflammatory nature in the brachial plexus. It provided useful information regarding the lesion site, extent, and anatomic relationships; thus, the principal aims of the study were therefore met. Once the technique of examination is mastered, sonography should be recommended as part of the pre-operative evaluation process post-ganglionic brachial plexus pathology. Most disadvantages are related to the restricted field of view and inability to overcome bonny obstacles particularly in evaluating pre-ganglionic region. As sonography is frequently employed for investigation of the supraclavicular region, awareness of the radiologist to the findings described may enable the early recognition of pathologies involving or threatening to involve the brachial plexus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-200
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Radiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Branchial plexopathies
  • Branchial plexus
  • Nerve
  • Nerve sheath tumors
  • Peripheral nerve
  • Ultrasound


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