We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is the Axillary Nerve?

By Brenda Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The axillary nerve is part of the human peripheral nervous system, the system of nerves which carries messages from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body. The axillary branches off the posterior Brachial plexus, a group of nerves in the lower neck, and enters the shoulder at the level of the armpit. It carries motor fibers to the deltoid and teres minor muscles, located in the shoulder and rotator cuff respectively, as well as sensory fibers to the shoulder and upper arm. It is also responsible for carrying sensory information from the shoulder back to the brain. The axillary is the only nerve performing these functions for the deltoid muscle.

An upper arm fracture, pressure from a cast or splint, a dislocated shoulder, direct injury or improper use of crutches can cause axillary nerve dysfunction. Symptoms of nerve damage can include numbness and weakness over part of the shoulder, difficulty raising the arm over the head, and difficulty lifting. If the pressure continues, the muscle on the outside of the shoulder will weaken after a few weeks, and paralysis of the shoulder can occur. This condition often repairs itself once the pressure has been removed, but physical therapy can help maintain a full range of motion and muscle strength. Surgery is a possible option if the symptoms do not improve.

Axillary nerve palsy is a dysfunction which can occur when the nerve has been stretched or pinched. Compression of the nerve can result from a shoulder injury or from leaning improperly on crutches. Proper use of crutches never involves resting the armpit on the top of the crutch; instead, the weight of the body should be centered on the hand grips. Symptoms of axillary nerve damage are similar to other injuries, so accurate diagnosis is essential. A complete history of symptoms and electrophysiological testing are required to make an accurate assessment.

While the most common cause of axillary nerve dysfunction is shoulder dislocation, direct nerve damage can occur when the scapula or proximal humerus is broken. Entrapment of the nerve can also occur in the quadrilateral space it traverses when the arm is pulled or positioned in such a way as to cause compression for a significant length of time. This can happen while playing sports or when a person is unconscious or sleeping. If the compression has occurred for a limited amount of time, the injury may heal without therapy or treatment.

If a person experiences symptoms of axillary nerve dysfunction, he should consult with a medical professional. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to mitigating the damage and reversing loss of muscle and range of motion. An electromyography (EMG) is a test that examines the health of muscles and related nerves, and can be used to diagnose axillary nerve damage, but it is only accurate if the injury is several weeks old.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By arod2b42 — On Mar 01, 2011

In certain sports such as American football, padding has developed over the years to prevent injury and pain to the shoulders and the axillary system. In blocking other players and pushing roughly against each other, the shoulders provide the crucial means of strength and endurance for a football player. Damage to the shoulders can put a player out for a season.

By Qohe1et — On Feb 28, 2011

Pressure on the shoulder can be felt and measured by this nerve. A body can properly grasp how much weight it is able to hold up using the interaction of muscular function with nervous function. If a load is too great, it will cause numbness and pain, and the person using their shoulders to bear a load will need to lighten it.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.