Parsonage-Turner syndrome

Parsonage-Turner syndrome is an acute idiopathic brachial neuritis.

There is male predominance (M:F 2:1 to 11.5:1) 1. Patients from 3 months to 85 years old have been reported, but the majority are between 3rd to 7th decade of life.

The presentation is typically quite sudden, with an onset of a painful shoulder girdle and progressive weakness. Symptoms are however non-specific and can mimic numerous other much more common conditions such as cervical spondylosis, labral tear with paralabral cyst and other suprascapular notch masses, rotator cuff deficiency, shoulder impingement, calcific tendonitis and adhesive capsulitis 1-2.

The findings are unilateral in two-thirds of cases. Bilateral involvement is reported.

A combination of history, EMG (which demonstrates denervation changes, especially of the suprascapular nerve) and imaging make the diagnosis. 

The etiology is uncertain, although localized infectious (viral) or immunological process is suspected. In almost all cases (97%) the suprascapular nerve is involved and is the only nerve involved in 50% of cases 2. The axillary nerve and subscapular nerve are also sometimes involved, either in combination or alone. 

The most frequently involved muscles are supraspinatus and infraspinatus (innervated by suprascapular nerve) followed by deltoid (innervated by axillary nerve). 

The most striking features on MRI are denervation changes in muscles. Initially, the muscle appears normal. Over the next few weeks, high T2 signal develops. Gradually, especially in patients with a protracted course, atrophy and fatty infiltration will develop with the increase in T1 signal and decreased muscle bulk. 

The condition is typically self-limiting with supportive therapy only being required. Weakness may persist for many years although 90% of patients will have an excellent recovery by three years 2.

This syndrome was first described in 1943 by Spillane 4 but popularized with a larger series in 1948 by Parsonage and Turner 3:

  • Maurice John Parsonage, neurologist: UK
  • John W Aldren Turner, neurologist: London, UK

Differential diagnosis on MR findings includes 1-2:

Article information

rID: 1848
Section: Syndromes
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Acute idiopathic brachial neuritis
  • Neuralgic amyotrophy
  • Parsonage Turner syndrome

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewers/no ads

Cases and figures

  • Case 1: infraspinatus and deltoid
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 2: acute
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 4
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

     Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

     Thank you for updating your details.