Birth Injuries: Better Understand Erb’s Palsy

The following is an editorial from our founder: Ken Stern

Birth injuries are often misunderstood as calamity caused by a dropped baby or unpreventable genetics. Birth injuries instead far too often involve significant damage to the most important part of a child: his or her brain. There are a wide assortment of birth injuries that can create significant challenges for a child including Cerebral Palsy, hydrocephalus and microcephaly. There is one additional type of birth injury that is important to understand: Erb’s Palsy. Often confused with Cerebral Palsy, Erb’s Palsy is a significant condition that needs better understanding.

But what exactly is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy is a condition that results from a newborn sustaining upper brachial plexus injuries during a difficult or traumatic birth. This very important and significant injury can stem from prolonged labor or breech position, two complications that, at times, may be preventable. The brachial plexus is a network of spinal nerves that control the movement in the neck, shoulder, arms, and hands. Sometimes, during delivery, excessive force can be applied by a medical professional, to remove the baby from the birth canal, which may result in harm to the baby during delivery.

When a medical professional applies too much force to facilitate delivery, harm can occur. How this excessive force is caused, though, can vary. Examples of methods of delivery that can result in Erb’s Palsy include

  • The improper use of forceps
  • Incorrect use of a vacuum extraction device
  • Failure to diagnose obstructions resulting in damage

If the infant’s shoulder gets wedged inside the birth canal, there is a risk of sustaining brachial plexus palsy. When the upper nerves in this area are injured during the birthing process, the condition is called Erb’s Palsy, which results in weakness and loss of movement in the arms and shoulders.

The frequency of Erb’s Palsy is extremely difficult to calculate, often due to the failure to diagnose the severity of problems caused at birth by an improper delivery. There are estimates that two out of every 1000 babies are born with Erb’s Palsy, with varying degrees of severity. While some babies may gradually heal over time, some newborns may sustain severe and permanent damage when the nerves are torn or avulsed from the spinal cord. The results of this type of damage can be as significant as they are severe, with some cases resulting in permanent paralysis in the arm and shoulder.

Several neurological diagnostic tests, including MRI, X-Ray can diagnose Erb’s Palsy. However, parents should also be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms in their child when his or her delivery involved complications:

  • Muscle/extremity weakness
  • Loss of sensation
  • Paralysis in one arm
  • Weakness of the muscles
  • Difficulty with raising one arm over the other arm
  • Arm bent at the elbow and held against the body
  • Lack of movement in the arm or hand
  • Inability to grip items

Depending on the severity of the nerve damage, there are different treatment options for those diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy that may help your child. However, these treatment options may not completely repair the damage caused at birth. Options may include surgical or non-surgical options that range from physical therapy, exploratory surgery, to surgery that may improve the child’s motor functioning.

Ultimately, if your child is diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, it is crucial that you have a team of medical and legal professionals review the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy, birth and post-delivery care of your child. Erb’s Palsy is a lifelong condition that can result in a wide variety of challenges from childhood to adulthood. Early intervention, though, can assist with helping children with Erb’s Palsy reach their full potential. This is the reason that pursuing a Medical Legal Review surrounding the circumstances of your child’s birth is important as children with Erb’s Palsy can be eligible for Lifetime Benefits that help fund a lifetime of housing, care, therapy, equipment, surgery and more.

For more information regarding Medical Legal Reviews, Lifetime Benefits and preventable Erb’s Palsy, please do not hesitate to call us at (800) 462-5772 or fill out our easy-to-use contact form. Our care team can walk you through the review process and connect you with critical resources to help your child, regardless of the cause of their Erb’s Palsy.

We hope to hear from you soon!

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