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The Risk Factors, Causes, and Treatments of Erb’s Palsy in Infants

Having a baby is a thrilling, terrifying time for new parents. Delivery is both a miracle and a physical feat for the new mom. While most deliveries progress smoothly, it is not easy to give birth to a child. In some cases, factors surrounding the birth can make the birth even more difficult and can have negative effects on the baby. The child can suffer injuries during labor and delivery that have lasting effects. Though rare, birth injuries do occur and the baby is left to suffer the consequences. One common birth injury is known as Erb’s palsy, a disorder that affects the nerves and muscles of the hand and arm.

What Is Erb’s Palsy?

A rare disease, affecting one or two children out of 1,000, Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury. Brachial plexus injuries are common birth injuries that involve the network of nerves located near the neck that provide movement and feeling to the shoulder, hand, arm, and fingers. Erb’s palsy injuries affect the upper nerves, causing weakness in one or more parts of the arm. Symptoms of Erb’s palsy may be identified shortly after birth and may include:

  • Inability to move an arm or shoulder
  • Arm bent toward the body
  • Weak or non-existent reflexes
  • Loss of feeling
  • Pain
  • Decreased grip

While these symptoms may be clues that there is a problem, they severity of the symptoms may vary based on the extent of the injury. Erb’s palsy is typically diagnosed through a physical exam and a number of other tests, including x-rays, ultrasound, or other studies. Physicians may also conduct nerve tests to see if the nerves have been damaged.

Types of Erb’s Palsy

There are four main types of nerve injuries that can result in Erb’s palsy. A child may experience more than one type simultaneously. The types are:

  1. Neurapraxia – This is the most common type of nerve injury. Neurapraxia occurs when the nerve is “shocked” but not torn. Adults can also experience these type of nerve injury, commonly known as a stinger. This injury typically heals on its own in a matter of months.
  2. Neuroma – With a neuroma, the tissue stretches and is damaged, resulting in the formation of scar tissue. Some recovery is possible, though typically not a complete fix.
  3. Rupture – The nerve itself is torn. Recovery is not possible without some type of medical intervention; the nerve will not be able to repair itself.
  4. Avulsion – An avulsion is the most severe type of nerve injury. In these cases, the nerve is torn completely away from the spinal cord. It is not possible to repair these injuries completely, though there are some medical interventions available that may be able to restore some function.

What Causes This Nerve Injury?

There are many risk factors for Erb’s palsy. While many babies are born healthy despite these risks, they can help identify the problem. Erb’s palsy is most common in babies who:

  • Display breech presentation
  • Display face first
  • Have a large birth weight
  • Experience a prolonged delivery
  • Experience a birth assisted with the use of forceps or similar equipment

Often, these risk factors increase the likelihood that the baby will be pulled or strained through the birth canal. This pulling can result in the stretching of the neck and the brachial plexus nerves, causing the injury and Erb’s palsy.

What Treatment Options Are Availabe for My Child’s Erb’s Palsy?

Many children can achieve a partial to full recovery from their palsy through medical interventions.

These interventions can include:

  • Physical therapy – Daily physical therapy is the most common treatment for Erb’s palsy and can begin as early as three weeks of age.
  • Occupational therapy – Occupational therapy can help children learn to perform everyday tasks and implement special equipment if necessary.
  • Surgery
    • Nerve graft repair – A nerve graft repair involves using a donor nerve from another child to splice onto the injured existing nerve.
    • Nerve decompression – Nerve decompression uses a nerve from another part of the child’s own body to repair some or all of the injury.

Surgical and non-surgical interventions are often used together to help injured children achieve the maximum amount of A Newborn Baby in a Hospital Bassinetmovement, feeling, and control. Often these treatments are successful. However, not all children will be able to fully restore function, and even those who do must endure the treatment and possible pain.

If your child has Erb’s palsy as the result of a birth injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Families of those children may be able to secure financial support to pay for medical treatment, specialized equipment, therapy, pain and suffering, and more. An experienced attorney can help families understand their legal rights and help them obtain compensation. New York birth injury lawyer Gerry Oginski has been representing injured children and their families for over 28 years. Call Oginski Law today at (516) 487-8207 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.

 


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer