What Causes Erb’s Palsy and How Can It Be Prevented?
Medically speaking, Erb’s palsy has a single cause – damage to the upper brachial plexus nerves, which control the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. That said, there are a number of birth injuries that can cause this type of damage to occur, most of which are preventable if a doctor recognizes the situation and takes action to correct it immediately.
A good doctor will be able to detect that an infant is in breech presentation (feet first), usually long before labor, and they will be able to either turn the baby or call for a cesarean section procedure.
A breech vaginal delivery can result in a number of complications that could hurt the baby or the mother. Among those is excessive pulling of the arms. As a breech baby descends the birth canal, its arms will tend to rise above its head, and this position is prone to too much pulling of the arms, which can result in nerve damage of the brachial plexus.
Cephalo-Pelvic Disproportion (CPD)
In the case of CPD, the infant’s body is out of proportion with the birth canal and is too large to pass through without getting caught or stuck in the birth canal. In this case, a cesarean section procedure is almost always called for, but if it is not called for in time, pulling and pressure on the arm or shoulder can result in a brachial stretch injury, which can develop into Erb’s palsy.
In a head-first delivery, sometimes the baby’s head is able to pass through the birth canal but the shoulders are obstructed by the pelvic bone. This situation is called shoulder dystocia, and it can result in excessive pulling on the shoulders, which can result in Erb’s palsy and other birth injuries.
Pulling on the Baby’s Arms
Most babies will not present arms-first, so this is not a common birth injury. However, if a doctor or medical practitioner at the hospital picks a newborn baby up by its arms, the weight of the baby’s body can be enough to do nerve damage to the brachial plexus and could cause Erb’s palsy.
In most cases, calling for a cesarean section in time is one of the best ways to avoid Erb’s palsy, but in some rare cases, it can be a cause of the disorder. Basically, if lateral traction occurs during the procedure, the baby’s arm may experience an excessive force, and Erb’s palsy can occur. This is rare, though, and, again, in most cases calling for a cesarean section will help avoid excessive strain on your baby’s arms and shoulders, protecting their brachial plexus and avoiding Erb’s palsy and other conditions.
Erb’s Palsy Treatment Options
Mild cases of Erb’s palsy have been known to resolve themselves without treatment, but more severe cases can result in permanent paralysis, numbness, pain, and/or disability and disfigurement if left untreated. Massaging the affected area has been shown to help nerves repair themselves, and physical therapy is a good option, as well. In some cases, surgery is required to repair nerves and return function, feeling, and range of motion to the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Erb’s Palsy Is Preventable
Whether you are expecting a baby and you are concerned about brachial plexus birth injuries, or you’ve recently had a baby who has developed Erb’s palsy, it’s important to know that this condition is generally preventable by medical practitioners. A good doctor will recognize the factors that could increase your baby’s chances of a birth injury, and they will do everything in their power to avoid the injury and resulting condition and/or disabilities.
While Erb’s palsy can be treated if it’s caught early, and is often a temporary disorder, no parent ever wants to see their child suffer, even for a short period of time. If you believe that your child has suffered a birth injury that’s resulted in Erb’s palsy, seek medical attention immediately, and then contact us at Birth injury Center to learn more about Erb’s palsy, birth injuries, and medical malpractice. We will be happy to discuss your case with you and help you understand your next steps.