The axillary nerve starts in your neck and extends to your shoulder. It causes movement and sensation in your shoulder and the back of your upper arm. Injuries to this nerve can affect your ability to rotate your arm or lift it.
Your axillary nerve, also known as the circumflex nerve, is one of five peripheral nerves that run through your shoulder. Axillary nerves start in your neck at the brachial plexus (a network of nerves in your shoulder). This network of nerves enables movement and sensation to your upper limbs.
Other nerves include your:
The axillary nerve helps you move muscles in your upper limbs, near your shoulder. It also provides sensation to this area, including:
Your axillary nerve starts in the fifth and sixth bones (vertebrae) in your lower cervical spine. Your cervical spine contains the bones that make up your neck.
The axillary nerve then:
Next, the axillary nerve divides into three branches:
Conditions affecting this nerve include injuries from:
Childbirth sometimes affects shoulder functioning in newborns. During birth, it may be necessary to grab a baby by their arm or near their shoulder. Their shoulders can also become stuck in a birthing person's pelvis, putting abnormal pressure on them. These situations can damage the baby’s axillary nerve.
Other conditions are:
Nerve injuries can take a long time to heal. But they often get better on their own or with physical therapy. Severe injuries may need surgery, such as a nerve graft. It can take months to regain sensation or muscle control.
To make a diagnosis, your healthcare provider may:
Steps you can take to avoid a shoulder nerve injury include:
You should contact your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing shoulder discomfort. Symptoms of an axillary nerve injury include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The axillary nerve connects to your shoulder. It provides sensation and allows you to rotate and straighten your arm. Axillary nerve injuries have a variety of causes. They can lead to arm paralysis and other difficulties. You can avoid certain injuries by using safety equipment and taking extra care to prevent falls. If you do get injured or have other problems with your shoulder, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/16/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.