Erb's palsy: Damage to brachial plexus can have severe effects

While some Houston residents may be familiar with cerebral palsy, a similarly-named condition may be less familiar. A type of brachial plexus injury, Erb's palsy is a birth injury which affects the muscles in the shoulder and upper arm. The condition gets its name from Doctor Wilhelm Erb, who first described it. The term "palsy" refers to paralysis of voluntary muscle. Finally, the brachial plexus is a grouping of nerves located close to the neck. When this set of nerves is damaged during the delivery process, the results can be very harmful to the baby.

Fortunately, only about one to two out of every thousand babies will have Erb's palsy. Still, for those who have it, the basic activities of growing up can be burdensome. A baby with Erb's palsy may have an arm that is rotated in towards their body; the baby is likely to have various degrees of difficulty moving the arm. Sometimes, a child with Erb's palsy can move their fingers but not the shoulder. A baby suffering from brachial plexus damage may experience loss of feeling in the arm, partial paralysis or even total paralysis.

The causes of Erb's palsy are often linked to a difficult delivery. A baby's brachial plexus can be stretched if the baby is particularly large, if the mother is in labor for a relatively long time or if the baby is in a breech position at birth. In some cases, Erb's palsy results from a troublesome birth wherein a member of the delivery team must actively pull the newborn from the birth canal using force.

For many children with Erb's palsy, some amount of recovery is possible, often via intensive physical therapy. Nevertheless, the long-term care costs can be enormous. A child whose brachial plexus was injured due to a negligent doctor could be entitled to compensation for medical costs.

Source: American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, "Erb's palsy," accessed Nov. 29, 2014

Categories: Birth Injuries