Ask the Expert: Dr. Steve Lee, Orthopedic Surgeon, Answers Questions on Nerve Injury & Compression in the Upper Extremity

Elbow pain

Q1. I was in a car accident that damaged my brachial plexus and now I have chronic pain. Are there non-surgical treatments for the pain?

Chronic pain after brachial plexus injury is relatively common. There are non-surgical treatments available. A pain management specialist can help decide which medications and other treatments may be beneficial.

Q2. I have tingling and numbness in my arm and hand caused by a fall. How do I know if I have nerve damage in my wrist?

A detailed physical examination can help determine if there is nerve damage. To confirm nerve damage, electrodiagnostic studies (EMG and nerve conduction studies) may be performed to test the function of your nerves. The location and severity of nerve damage can be assessed, and a treatment plan proposed.

Q3. When I keep my elbow bent for a long time, especially at night, I wake up with numb fingers. Is that normal?

That is not normal and may be an indication that you have a compressed nerve. Consult a physician for a detailed physical examination and electrodiagnostic study to help confirm the location of the nerve compression. Non-operative and operative treatments are available for such a condition.

Q4. I am a college pitcher and have nerve damage in my shoulder. My doctor and I are discussing surgery. What is the likelihood that I will be able to go back to pitching?

This depends on several factors, including the condition of the shoulder joint and the severity of nerve injury. Recovery from such surgery can take a long time. You should have a discussion with your doctor about returning to pitching.


Dr. Steve Lee is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. He specializes in treating conditions of the hand, wrist, forearm and elbow.


Topics: Orthopedics
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


  1. I had two labrum repairs in the past year, and my shoulder has become unstable again. It slips multiple times a day which flares up my entire shoulder. As a result I have moderate to severe pain all the time. I saw 3 physiotherapists who all said my shoulder is extremely unstable and therapy won’t help. I then saw a surgeon who did some tests and confirmed that my shoulder is very unstable. A week ago I have a diagnostic arthroscopy and the EUA failed to demonstrate any instability. How is this possible?

    1. Hi Amy — A firm diagnosis will be made by a combination of careful history, physical examination, and evaluation of imaging studies. You should be seen by a shoulder specialist.

  2. My CTA shows compression and atrophy of my teres minor. My EMG shows dennervation of my deltoid.

    Do you treat quadrilateral space syndrome.

    Drop things all the time. Cannot sleep on shoulders. Pain over posterior shoulder. Have slap and labral tears but QSS is left sided.

    Do you do treat QSS in the shoulders. If so how?

    1. Hello Roslyn, thank you for expressing interest in a consultation at Hospital for Special Surgery. We have sent your inquiry to a representative of our Physician Referral Service, who will be in contact with you to assist you in finding the physician who best fits your medical needs.

  3. I am suffering from a sciatic nerve compression injury with complete foot drop. it has been about a month now and Im wondering if nerve decompression is an option for me.

  4. category for my question: surgery (tendon laceration)

    My kid who is 16 years old and he has had serious laceration in an accident 2 inches above the wrist effecting extensor tendons of his arm.

    As the result, extensor tendons had been severed/injured via a single clean cut. During the operation, the severed tendon responsible for lateral movement of the thumb has been stitched to the wrist muscle rather than original tendon that was apparently recoiled above the laceration, too short to reconnect according to the surgeon. The nerves in his hand are intact.

    So : Abductor Pollicis longus tendon has been stitched into extensor carpi radial longus.

    Q. Can this thumb ever moving laterally?

    I am asking this because I have been told, that it can, by some rehab persona working for the surgeon. They claim that lateral movement would be possible but their claims are suspect in my mind.

    My kid can not currently move his thumb laterally when his hand is placed on a flat surface but can move it up and down if she lifts his hand. Will the lateral movement ever return and how is that even possible given that one muscle would be moving to tendons!

    Q. What are the chances of finding a surgeon that would do allograft or autograft surgery to fix this successfully. I have to add other tendons were injured but they are now performing fine, 12 weeks post op. Can I go to orthopedic surgeon. Current surgeon is a plastic surgeon who is against doing grafting and I believe time is running out!!

    (Note that the penetration was delayed for 11 days after the emergency for no good reason that we know of. )

    1. Hi Tesa, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Steve Lee, Orthopedic Surgeon, says: ?Your child would need a physical examination by a qualified hand surgeon to determine what is possible. If you wish to seek a consultation at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  5. I have a question I have nerve damge on my hand due to fall on my shoulder and they did an eng they told me that they could do nothing for with explanation is their another route I could go to get additional testing done

    1. Hi Irene, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Steve Lee, Orthopedic Surgeon, says: ?You would need a physical examination and perhaps another EMG, specifically looking for injury to the brachial plexus.? For more information on brachial plexus injuries, please visit If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  6. My wife, Claudia, has damage in her long thoracic nerve that causes chronic pain. We think that it happened when she took a nasty fall and broke her left wrist 6 or 7 years ago. She has since had a partial scapulectomy, nerve blocks, and various injections and medications to get relief for the chronic pain in the upper left portion of her back…..none of which have been affective. A Neurologist finally diagnosed the damaged long thoracic nerve about 2 years ago. However, we have been unable to find anyone in the Sarasota, FL area (where we live) that can do much to help.

    Is there any type of surgery that might be available to relieve her constant pain? Thank you, in advance, for your response.

    1. Hi Tom, thank you for reaching out. It would be best for your wife to seek an in person consultation with a physician so that they can determine the best course of treatment. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Coast to Coast (C2C) Program at 212-606-1610 or by email at for further assistance. For more information on the C2C Program at HSS, visit

  7. Hello,
    I had a fall 4 years ago which caused problems of pain, numbness, tingling , pin and needles as well as loss of mobility and strength to the right side of my neck, shoulder, bicep and hand. After going to PT and pain management, Chiropractic care on and off over that time I saw a new Orthopedic surgeon who suggested a shoulder debrevment which was scheduled. While waiting for surgery I had another accident where a large wall divider fell and pinned me between it and a desk hitting me in the brachial plexus area. The surgeon sent me to neuro surgeon to have me cleared for the shoulder surgery. I had the shoulder surgery May 7 2014 and was healing less pain and better mobility while going to PT 3 times a week. Then at the beginning of July, I started having more pain and problems with mobility and strength. My scapula started winging causing extreme pain. I have had an EMG and it showed injury to the long thoracic and super scapular nerves. i was told this injury could improve on it’s own with PT . I have been going but still have lots of pain and loss of mobility and strength.
    I am hoping you could offer a course of action that might help as I personally feel no improvement and do not know where to turn. I have seen many DR.’s but no one has an answer.

    1. Hi Kathy, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Steve Lee, Orthopedic Surgeon, says: “This is a complex problem and would require a thorough evaluation. You should consider seeking consultation with a physician.” If HSS is your desired destination for care, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

      1. OK, I was advised to wait to see if it improves. It has been a year and I have little to no improvement. I am now looking for advice as to who to see and what will help. This injury has been a game changer for me. Please advise. Thank you !

  8. Hi sir,
    i have an accident 1week earlier
    (fallen from bike),
    and injured my right leg”s foot smallest finger(toe).
    In x-ray report it shows that mild displacement occurs.
    I have consulted an orthopaedist about this then he straighten my finger and bandage it with the help of other nearby finger and give some painkilling tablets.

    Does this treatment is right.
    Or i should consult another one!
    And what precautions i should take?


    1. Hi Anup, thank you for reaching out. It is best for you to consult with your treating physician so they can advise with the best course of treatment. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  9. wrist injury 7 mo ago. Arthrogram MRI showed pinhole defect in distal tfcc, schapolunate ligament tear, bone bruise & cyst. Dr. said surgery would not help, nothing else he could do. I am in extreme pain

    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for reaching out. It is best you consult with your treating physician, as they best know your case and can better guide you. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  10. Hello Dr. Lee,
    I am a 50 year old triathlete, writing from Blacksburg, VA and have recently sent up some of my medical records for your review. I’m wondering if my elbow contracture (post surgery for olecranon fracture) is a type of problem you deal with frequently? I am concerned about my range of motion as well as my ulnar nerve which seems mildly compromised. My local surgeon tells me I need an Elbow Contracture Release and I’m hoping to have that done arthroscopically by someone that is very familiar with the procedure. Thanks for your consideration.

    1. Hi Jim, thank you for reaching out. We have sent your inquiry over to Dr. Robert Hotchkiss’ office and someone shall be reaching out to you shortly.

  11. Hi Dr. Lee I had a procedure 2 years ago for a broken scaphoid in which a screw was placed in my wrist. I still have terrible pains in my wrist and I just wanted to know if I will ever regain my full range of motion I”m my wrist and would it feel better to have the screw removed?

    1. Hi Delvin, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Steve Lee, Orthopedic Surgeon, says: “It is difficult to know without getting at least a set of x-rays of the wrist. It is possible that the scaphoid is not healed or that you have arthritis and simply removing the screw may not be enough.” It is best to consult with your treating physician. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  12. I pulled my triceps at work but prior to that happening, I was seeing a chiropractor for neck and pelvis corrections. I had a sling on for 3 weeks, as I couldn’t drop my arm without getting this shock feeling. In two sessions with the chiropractor, he had grabbed my thumb on the arm I had injured and told me to pull my body in the opposite direction and he popped my thumb both times. My arm was burning for days after he had done this the second time. I have been experiencing a numbness sensation in my thumb and it is spreading into my forearm. My triceps seem to be healing, but my forearm has not progressed. Is it possible that the chiropractor did something wrong? These two appointments that the chiropractor did this was a month and a half ago.

    1. Hi Emilie, thank you for reaching out. It is best to consult with your treating physician in person so that they can give you a better diagnosis. If you wish to seek consultation at HSS, please call our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  13. greetings
    i was injured in early day of my age on my finger, the doctors could not do anything they had to cut my ring finger, now i would like to find out if it possible to do surgery or something to have a finger again,

    1. Hello, thank you for reaching out. It is best to seek an in-person consultation to determine the best course of treatment. If you are interested in receiving care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  14. hi dr lee
    i have a full avulsion of the brachial plexus which is total paralyse of the arm .i have contacted a surgeon in america that i know and he directed me to you ,i am wanting to come to america for surgery and i wanted to know if it is possible to do surgery on a full avulsion. my accident happened 4months ago, i do have a professor that is going to do surgery on the upper part of my arm to get some movement back but i want to try and get my full movement back and it seems the only place to go is america i was wondering what are the procedures i have to take to be able to get all the right information to you and also i do know time is a key factor . my name is john and i am from the uk thanks

    1. Hi John, thank you for reaching out. We have sent your inquiry over to Dr. Lee’s office and they shall be contacting you shorty.

  15. Hi I Have Been Having Major Knew Pain For A Week. I Went To The Dr He Did A Xray Said He Thinks It’s A lLigament Sprang. I Have ThrobbingTo Knee Cap, Tingling Down The Leg, I Can’t Straighten My Leg All The Way, And NoW I Have Swelling In My Upper Shin . Should I Go To An Orthopedic Surgeon For A Second Opinion

    1. Hi Eden, thank you for reaching out. It would be best to consult with an orthopedic specialist for a second opinion. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555.

  16. Hello Dr. Lee. Many years back i was chipping away some concrete and a piece of concrete bounced up and hit my middle finger. It hurt a lot and it swelled up right at the middle knuckle. It lasted for a long time and it actually came so it was hard to flex my finger. A few years later, i was just rubbing my sore knuckle and a bone spur popped through the skin. That was then. Now i have extreme pain in my wrist and there is a bump too. If bent at all it feels like my wrist is broken. Any ideas what this may be?

    1. Hi Dave, thank you for reaching out. It is best for you to be evaluated in person. If you are interested in care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for assistance.

  17. I had artrhoscopic shoulder compression followed by rotation cuff repair as well as they repaired some bicep & triceps as well three months ago. I am still in tremendous pain, unable to sleep more than 1-2 hours at a time at night, still going thru physical therapy 2 Weekly & have shooting pain down my arm to my wrist not to mention it goes numb. Is this normal or is something wrong? I’ve mentioned it to my orthopedic surgeon but he just says it could take up to 4 months for the pain to go away. Just would like to know if I should get a second opinion. Plus I cant lift more than 4-5 pounds for more than 5 mins & still cant get my arm behind my back & the pain in my elbow is excruciating! HELP!

    1. Hi Pat, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Joshua Dines, Sports Medicine Surgeon, says: “It is always difficult to comment on surgical procedures when we don’t know exactly what was done. That said, while pain for the first few months after surgery is normal, shooting pain down the arm with occasional numbness is not. I would recommend following up with your doctor to see if they want to further work up those symptoms.” It is always best to consult with your treating physician. If you are interested in receiving care at HSS, please reach out to our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for assistance.

  18. I suffer from loss of use to my right hand. two year”s ago i had surgery was told i would had 90% use back my hand is now weaker than before surgery.” personly think i have brachial plexus and ulnar nerve damage due to a fall had ten year”s ago.

  19. I have had radial nerve release surgery done on my right arm which resulted in finger drop that has improved with post surgical pt but I still have some parathesia in that hand why is this and the surgery was done in 2003?

  20. I have moderate to severe carpal tunnel symdrome as diagnosed by an orthopedist and neurologist based on emg and cat scan testing in March 2011.The numbness has improved a great deal without treatment.Shall I still go ahead with surgery?

  21. For a few years from around 2005 till 2009 I had a threaded wristband which I always kept on my wrist. Naturally after I bathed or got wet, my wristband would remain wet. I took it off in 2009 after I noticed that once in a while I would get a sharp pain of the dorsal side of my wrist close to the part my middle fingers bones touch my wrist on sudden occasions.

    I stopped wearing the wristband and later started wearing a metallic bracelet made of pure copper. This reduced the frequency and severity of my wrist pain, but I am not a 100% okay yet.

    Please advise if this situation can be cured with physiotherapy, medicine, acupuncture or surgery,


    1. Hi Sudev, thank you for your question about wrist pain. It is difficult for a physician to comment on your condition without a physical examination and x-ray at a minimum. You should see a hand surgeon for an assessment. If you?d like to make an appointment with a hand surgeon at HSS, please call Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 or visit them online at

  22. Question: for about 6 weeks now, the thumb and forefinger on my left hand have been numb. There is also some occasional aching pain in the left arm. I visited the neurologist for tests and he determined that the C6 vertebrae in my neck was the source, he thinks there is nerve root damage, but I am awaiting an MRI soon to get a better picture of what is going on. If it is nerve root damage, what is the prognosis and typical course of treatment?

    1. Hi Andrea, Dr. Lee says, ?The prognosis and course of treatment depend on the extent of nerve damage. Some types of damage are irreversible, some are not. Therefore, in some cases the symptoms will not go away completely no matter the treatment. Typical treatment is performed by a spine specialist, but can include cortisone injections and possibly surgery to remove the pressure from the nerves.?

      Please consult with a physician to determine the best course of treatment. Our Physician Referral Service can help you with an appointment. They can be reached at 877-606-1555 or online at

  23. I was in a car accident 14 months ago. I had herniated disc c5-6 with impingement, herniated c6-7. I still have trouble throwing a ball overhand. Do you think i Will I be able to? Discussion of fusion was discussed early on but bc pain level is down not an option, also received spinal injections. In addition following accident I have this cascading cracking of my sterumn. What might this be?

    1. Hi Dinene, thank you for your question. Dr. Bernard Rawlins, Orthopedic Surgeon, says, “People with a herniated disc at C5-6 are likely to be able to throw overhand if they”re appropriately treated, either surgically or non-surgically. You should consult with a physician about the best treatment method. Cracking of the sternum is likely not related to the spine.”

      If you”d like to make an appointment, please call our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 or visit them online at They are knowledgeable about the capabilities of all the physicians and can help find a doctor who will be the best match for your condition.

  24. Dr. Lee,

    I suffered a rolling traction injury to my right shoulder resulting in a grade 3 shoulder separation, thoracic outlet syndrome as well as a cervical plexus and brachial plexus injury to my right upper extremity. Most damage is at the nerve roots. I am going to pain management but wanted to know if you have any suggestions on what might be helpful. I have had bi-lateral carpal tunnel surgeries and as surgery to my right forearm radial nerve entrapment release. Can you help or recommend a doctor to take another look at my condition who specializes in such an injury?
    Thank you Doctor.

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