What Is Erb’s Palsy and What Can You Do?
From oxygen deprivation to physical trauma, there are numerous birth injuries that can have lasting effects on a child after birth. Among those is Erb’s palsy, a condition that can develop during a long or difficult labor that can result in partial or total paralysis of one or both shoulders, arms, or hands.
A Birth Injury of the Brachial Plexus
So what exactly is Erb’s palsy, and how does it develop? The brachial plexus is a network of nerves located near the neck. This nerve network marks the origin of all of the nerves that control the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. During childbirth, if a baby’s shoulder is caught behind the pelvic bone or if it experiences too much pressure or strain, the brachial plexus nerves can be stretched and damaged.
Erb’s palsy is a condition that develops due to a brachial stretch injury like this. Because the injury may affect all or some of the brachial plexus, there are varying degrees of Erb’s palsy, ranging from numbness and tingling to muscle weakness and/or partial or total paralysis of the shoulder, hand, or fingers of the affected arm. In some cases, Erb’s palsy results in total paralysis of the entire arm. Though there is nothing physically wrong with the affected arm itself, the damage to the brachial plexus makes it impossible for the baby to move their shoulder, arm, or hand normally.
It’s important to note that not all brachial stretch injuries result in Erb’s palsy. This condition occurs when damage is done only to the upper nerves of the brachial plexus, and it is often temporary, especially with early diagnosis and treatment. However, if both the lower and upper nerves of the brachial plexus are damaged, referred to as global brachial plexus palsy, permanent total or partial paralysis may occur.
Erb’s Palsy Causes
In general, there are three common ways that Erb’s palsy can develop from a birth injury during a long or difficult labor:
- Stretching and stress during labor can occur if the baby is descending down the birth canal at an angle. In this case, the shoulders will not be directly behind the head, and one arm may be pulled in the opposite direction from the head.
- If the baby is too large to pass easily through the birth canal (a circumstance referred to as cephalo-pelvic disproportion or CPD), the baby’s shoulders may experience excessive strain and pull, which can damage the brachial plexus nerves.
- Breech babies are also at risk for developing Erb’s palsy, as the brachial plexus nerves can be damaged as the baby’s arms tend to rise over its head as it’s pulled out of the birth canal by its legs.
In each of these cases, shoulder dislocation and other injuries are not uncommon, as the baby will experience excessive stretching and stress on its body. This kind of stretching and stress almost always results in some form of nerve damage, which can lead to Erb’s palsy or other brachial stretch injuries.
How to Tell if Your Baby Has Erb’s Palsy
Though your baby cannot tell you, “My arm feels numb,” or, “I can’t move my hand,” there are visible symptoms when a baby has Erb’s palsy or other nerve damage due to a birth injury to the brachial plexus. Look for these symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you see one or more of them:
- One hand has a significantly weaker grip than the other.
- One arm looks limp, and your baby holds it on their side, usually with a slight bend at the elbow.
- Your baby doesn’t respond when you touch the upper part of the affected arm.
- Signs of partial or full paralysis in the affected arm.
- Loss of motor function in the shoulder or upper arm.
Fortunately, Erb’s palsy is often a temporary condition, but it does need medical treatment, which can be expensive. If your child has suffered a birth injury that’s resulted in Erb’s palsy or any other nerve damage associated with the brachial plexus, you may have a medical malpractice case. Contact us at the Birth Injury Center today for a free consultation.