What Is the Musculocutaneous Nerve?

The cervical spine is located in the neck.
Minor damage to the musculocutaneous nerve can weaken the bicep muscles.
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  • Written By: J. Leach
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2014
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The musculocutaneous nerve is part of a network of nerves called the brachial plexus. It serves the bicep muscles as well as the skin on the side of the forearm. The brachial plexus is a major arrangement of nerve fibers that runs from the spine, below the fifth cervical vertebrae in the neck, to the first thoracic vertebrae in the middle of the back. The musculocutaneous nerve continues through the neck and armpit area, to terminate in the arm.

A nerve is a fibrous bundle that transmits impulses and sensations from the spinal cord or brain to the muscles. Large nerves facilitate both motor and sensory functions, while small nerves accomplish either one or the other. The musculocutaneous nerve provides both sensory and motor function to the muscular groups it connects. In the lower arm, however, its function is merely sensory. As it approaches its end, the musculocutaneous nerve becomes the lateral cutaneous nerve of the forearm.

Damage to the musculocutaneous nerve can be caused by compressing, stretching, or severing it. Minor damage can cause weakness in the bicep muscle and an inability to flex the arm. The patient may also feel some numbness in the elbow area. If this particular nerve is severed, it will not cause a great amount of damage. At worst, the patient will lose sensation to a small strip of skin and have difficulties bending and straightening the arm.

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A nerve can become pinched, or compressed, when a patient with a skeletal or joint problem stretches the affected area. Another frequent location for compression is the point at which a nerve leaves the spinal cord, through the spinal column and vertebra. Depending on where it is pinched, and at what root, a patient with a pinched nerve can experience a variety of symptoms like numbness, tingling, and burning.

The cervical spine, located in the neck, is comprised of seven discs and seven vertebrae, called C1 through C7. Each nerve is rooted in the spinal cord at different discs. The nerve roots for the musculocutaneous nerve are located at C5, C6, and C7. A pinched nerve at C5 may cause difficulty flexing the bicep. At C6, a pinch may cause weakness in the arm and thumb, which can be accompanied by numbness. A pinch at C7, and the entire arm down to the middle finger may experience numbness.

The carpal tunnel is a space in the wrist where the tendons and median nerve run through to the fingers. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by nerve compression in the wrist area. It can be difficult for doctors to isolate where a nerve is being compressed, pinched, or otherwise irritated. The musculocutaneous nerve, for instance, can become caught at the elbow joint and some symptoms can be easily mistaken for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

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anon335302
Post 7

I am in massage therapy school and we are studying the nerves and how we can give relief to tight swollen muscles that trap and impinge nerves for the above stated symptoms. The Steiner School of massage therapy has several campuses around the country who trains us how to massage the muscles that are causing these symptoms.

anon289016
Post 6

@Pharmchick78: I agree with everything you said, but the problem nowadays is it takes forever to get diagnosed because we have so many quack doctors out there who think everyone is some drug addict seeking medication.

I've known two people and read about hundreds having issues with doctors not believing them and then when they finally get diagnosed, it's sort of too late as some things just can't be fixed as it could have been if they were caught right away.

I had to wait over two years before my Thoracic Outlet syndrome (both nerve and artery) was diagnosed and had to put up with five doctors who thought it was all in my head and I was some drug seeker.

I'm now in the process and will continue the rest of their working years in trying to get their licenses taken away and plan on doing whatever it takes in accomplishing that. Doctors lately have become the problem instead of the solution for many.

anon221047
Post 4

I am allan and I am 25 years old. I got a brachial plexus lesion involving the right axillary and muscutaneous nerves for nine months. I have not had any surgery for my hand. Please give advice for me.

CopperPipe
Post 3

Wow -- scary stuff. I think I'm going to go buy an ergonomic keyboard now...

googlefanz
Post 2

Is the long thoracic nerve in any way connected to the musculocutaneous nerve? I know that it runs close by the dorsal scapular and suprascapular nerves, but does it ever meet up with the musculocutaneous nerve?

pharmchick78
Post 1

Great article. I'd just like to add that musculocutaneous nerve entrapment is just as serious as other more "popular" conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you imagine how badly it hurts when you bang your funny bone, then think about how it would be if your radial nerve (the elbow nerve) was permanently pinched.

Although the prognosis for pinched nerve recovery is good with treatment, patients tell me that the pain is truly terrible.

However, as with many diseases, you have a big impact on your chances of recovery by simply reporting symptoms.

So don't be one of those people who ignores tingling in your hand -- nerve problems are not something to fool around with!

If you're having nerve pain in your hand, or pinched nerve symptoms, consult a doctor right away -- you'll thank yourself later.

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