The C5 root dermatome enlarges and modulates hand pain in total brachial plexus palsy

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Hand pain is a major complaint in 80% of the patients with complete brachial plexus palsy; and, in 80% of these patients, the C5 root is ruptured and the C6-T1 roots avulsed from the spinal cord. It has been suggested that pain in brachial plexus injuries may not arise from avulsed roots, but rather from ruptured roots. Traditionally the C5 root dermatome does not extend to the hand. We have hypothesized that in total lesions of the brachial plexus the C5 root dermatome expands, reaching the hand. In 20 patients with confirmed C5 root rupture and C6-T1 root avulsion, we investigated the distribution of C5 root paresthesia six to eight weeks after grafting. After cervical percussion in search of Tinel's sign, maps related to reported paresthesia were drawn on the affected limb. We observed that paresthesia following C5 root percussion reached the hands and fingers, dermatomes linked to the C6 and C8 roots. Immediately after percussion, for a few seconds, 14 patients who complained of pain during examination reported the augmentation of numbness and pain resolution. After brachial plexus injury, the C5 root dermatome expands and modulates hand pain. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Microsurgery 34:292–295, 2014.

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