Birth Injuries: Erbs Palsy and Brachial Plexus

When a couple finds out they are expecting a baby, the feelings of joy are overwhelming. They are excited about the prospects of bringing home their new bundle of joy and raising a happy and healthy baby. But when parents learn that their precious family member has endured a devastating birth injury, their happiness soon turns to heartache, fear, sadness and confusion. Parents who’ve suffered through this ordeal can attest to the depression as well as lasting impact a birth injury, no matter how mild or severe can have on a family. Just imagine the heartache when parents learn that their little baby will now have to endure a lifetime of debilitating medical problems that a birth injury can bring about.

Erbs Palsy and Brachial Plexus

One of those devastating birth injuries that often occurs is something known as Erbs Palsy and Brachial Plexus. This occurs when a baby suffers a loss of mobility or weakness of the arm, specifically caused by physical harm to the area of nerves known as the brachial plexus. This injury, besides being called erbs palsy and brachial plexus is alternatively known as klumpke paralysis and erb-duchenne paralysis.

Why does erbs palsy occur?

A host of reasons exist as to exactly why erbs palsy occurs, but generally speaking, it happens as a result of a difficult birth. For instance, this condition can occur if a baby’s neck and head are maneuvered or pulled in an aggressive manner just as the shoulders are coming through the vaginal area.

Erbs palsy vs. brachial plexus

What is the difference between the two conditions? Basically, erbs palsy refers to the consequences as it relates to the baby’s upper arm and the revolving of its lower arm. It’s a bit different regarding brachial plexus. With this condition the injuries really only involve the upper arm. A baby is at an increased risk for brachial plexus if:

  • A breach birth occurs
  • An infant that is bigger than normal
  • Shoulder Dystocia

How will I know if my baby is suffering from erbs palsy or brachial plexus?

The symptoms of these two conditions are usually discovered soon after the baby is born. For example, upon examination, a doctor will notice that the infant’s arm is actually bent at the elbow and is being tightly held against its body. They will also see a compromised handgrip on a particular body side as well as notice that the infant is experiencing sporadic or spontaneous arm movement.

Statistics

Did you know that as many as two infants out of about 10,000 births must undergo surgery to recover from a birth injury as it relates to erbs palsy or brachial plexus?

Treatment

Surgery for treating erbs palsy and brachial plexus is best done during the first year of the baby’s life, specifically between month four and 12. It should also be noted that more than 70 percent of infants suffering from this condition will heal without the need for surgery.

The treatment and outcome of the erbs palsy and brachial plexus depend on the severity of the case. The most serious cases involve something known as avulsion. This means that the nerves are actually pulled away from the spinal cord. When this occurs, more than one operation to correct the conditions is generally required.
Physical, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy can help to increase a child’s range of movement in the upper extremities, keep the muscles from atrophy or rigidity, and strengthen the muscles and tendons in the affected extremities. With erbs palsy treatment, mild cases tend to resolve within three or four months. With more serious cases recovery may occur slowly over the first 18 to 24 months of life. Typically after two years, little improvement in a patient’s condition will occur. In some cases, patients will have some degree of long-term disability.

Many babies are able to recover in about six months, but unfortunately, the ones that do not will generally have a rough time as they mature. In fact they actually will have a compromised quality of life and could have to undergo even more medical procedures.