What is the definition of Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Axillary nerve dysfunction is nerve damage that leads to a loss of movement or sensation in the shoulder.

What are the alternative names for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Neuropathy - axillary nerve

What are the causes for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Axillary nerve dysfunction is a form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the axillary nerve. This is the nerve that helps control the deltoid muscles of the shoulder and the skin around it. A problem with just one nerve, such as the axillary nerve, is called mononeuropathy.

The usual causes are:

  • Direct injury
  • Long-term pressure on the nerve
  • Pressure on the nerve from nearby body structures
  • Shoulder injury

Entrapment creates pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.

The damage can destroy the myelin sheath that covers the nerve or part of the nerve cell (the axon). Damage of either type reduces or prevents the movement of signals through the nerve.

Conditions that can lead to axillary nerve dysfunction include:

  • Body-wide (systemic) disorders that cause nerve inflammation
  • Deep infection
  • Fracture of the upper arm bone (humerus)
  • Pressure from casts or splints
  • Improper use of crutches
  • Shoulder dislocation

In some cases, no cause can be found.

What are the symptoms for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Numbness over part of the outer shoulder
  • Shoulder weakness, especially when lifting the arm up and away from the body

What are the current treatments for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Depending on the cause of the nerve disorder, some people do not need treatment. The problem gets better on its own. The rate of recovery can be different for everyone. It can take many months to recover.

Anti-inflammatory medicines may be given if you have any of the following:

  • Sudden symptoms
  • Small changes in sensation or movement
  • No history of injury to the area
  • No signs of nerve damage

These medicines reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve. They may be injected directly into the area or taken by mouth.

Other medicines include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines may be helpful for mild pain (neuralgia).
  • Medicines to help reduce stabbing pain.
  • Opiate pain relievers may be needed to control severe pain.

If your symptoms continue or get worse, you may need surgery. If a trapped nerve is causing your symptoms, surgery to release the nerve may help you feel better.

Physical therapy can help maintain muscle strength. Job changes, muscle retraining, or other forms of therapy may be recommended.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

It may be possible to make a full recovery if the cause of the axillary nerve dysfunction can be identified and successfully treated.

What are the possible complications for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Complications may include:

  • Deformity of the arm, shoulder contracture, or frozen shoulder
  • Partial loss of sensation in the arm (uncommon)
  • Partial shoulder paralysis
  • Repeated injury to the arm

When should I contact a medical professional for Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of axillary nerve dysfunction. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chance of controlling symptoms.

How do I prevent Axillary Nerve Dysfunction?

Preventive measures vary, depending on the cause. Avoid putting pressure on the underarm area for long periods. Make sure casts, splints, and other appliances fit properly. When you use crutches, learn how to avoid putting pressure on the underarm.



Steinmann SP, Elhassan BT. Nerve problems related to the shoulder. In: Rockwood CA, Matsen FA, Wirth MA, Lippitt SB, Fehringer EV, Sperling JW, eds. Rockwood and Matsen's The Shoulder. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 18.

Taylor KF. Nerve entrapment. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 58.

  • Condition: Proximal Humeral Fractures
  • Journal: Joint diseases and related surgery
  • Treatment Used: Deltopectoral vs Anterolateral Acromial Approaches
  • Number of Patients: 48
  • Published —
This study investigated the effects of deltopectoral (anterior) versus anterolateral (both anterior and lateral) acromial approaches in patients with proximal humeral fractures (break of the upper part of the bone of the arm).
  • Condition: Old Fracture of Proximal Humerus in Elderly Patients
  • Journal: Zhongguo gu shang = China journal of orthopaedics and traumatology
  • Treatment Used: Reverse Total Shoulder Arthroplasty
  • Number of Patients: 12
  • Published —
This study investigated the results of reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (replacement) in treating old fractures of the proximal humerus (upper arm) in elderly patients.

There are no recent clinical trials available for this condition. Please check back because new trials are being conducted frequently.