Raising Awareness - Erb's Palsy
Article and content created by © 2021 Birth Injury Justice Center
What Is Erb’s Palsy?
"Erb’s palsy, also called brachial plexus birth palsy or Erb-Duchenne palsy, is a condition caused by nerve damage around the time of birth.
Doctors or nurses pulling on a baby during a difficult delivery can damage the brachial plexus, or the network of nerves that sends signals from the spine to the shoulders, arms, and hands. The resulting condition, Erb’s palsy, prevents the baby from properly using their affected limb.
Erb’s palsy can cause difficulties in completing daily tasks, such as eating and getting dressed. Fortunately, the condition is highly treatable, and most children can achieve a complete recovery.
Types of Erb’s Palsy Injuries
The severity of a child’s condition depends on the type of nerve damage that occurs:
Neurapraxia: Stretching of the nerve without tearing
Neuroma: A stretch injury that may cause scar tissue
Rupture: Tearing of the nerve without separation from the spinal cord
Avulsion: The nerve root tears away from the spinal cord and will not heal on its own
Causes of Erb’s Palsy
One of the most common cause of Erb's Palsy is a condition called shoulder dystocia, which occurs when an infant’s shoulder is caught behind the mother’s pubic bone during childbirth. When a medical professional pulls on the baby to release their shoulder, it can stretch or tear the healthy nerves in that area.
Other situations that may cause Erb’s palsy:
The baby’s head and neck pulling sideways as they pass through the birth canal
Pulling the baby’s shoulders during a head-first delivery
Pulling on the baby’s feet during a feet-first (breech) delivery, which puts too much pressure on the infant’s arms
Shoulder dislocation or fractures in the collarbone (clavicle)
Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy
Notable signs of Erb’s palsy include:
Muscle weakness in one arm
Numbness or tingling in shoulder, arm, or hand
Unresponsive, limp arm or hand
Limited ability to grasp objects, or only using one hand to grasp objects
Partial or complete arm paralysis
Limited muscular or nerve development in the arm or hand
What symptoms develop will depend on the severity of the injury. In extreme cases, someone with Erb’s palsy may not be able to move their affected limb at all.
Diagnosis of Erb’s Palsy
If you suspect your child has Erb’s palsy, you should consult your doctor or pediatric physician. Only a medical expert can make an Erb’s palsy diagnosis.
Common Erb’s palsy assessment tests include:
Nerve conduction study
Physical examinations look for outward signs of the condition. Electronic scans of the body, such as an MRI or CT scan, check to see if there has been nerve damage — and how bad the damage is.
Prognosis of Erb’s Palsy
Once your child has been diagnosed, your doctor will give you a prognosis, or the expected outlook of the condition. Erb’s palsy has a much better outlook than many other birth injuries.
According to a study conducted by Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia, 80% to 96% of newborns will completely recover from Erb’s palsy.
With prompt and proper therapy, mild cases of Erb’s palsy heal within a few months. However, severe cases may never fully heal, even with therapy and surgery. Catching Erb’s palsy as early as possible is the best way to ensure effective treatment.
Erb’s Palsy Treatment
Your child’s diagnosis and prognosis inform their Erb’s palsy treatment plan.
Stretched nerves may only require physical therapy, as they can often heal on their own with muscle conditioning. Torn nerves, however, may also require surgery. All Erb’s palsy treatments are intended to help your child to regain use of their affected shoulder, arm, and/or hand.
The key to recovery is starting treatment early. Treatment is most effective when it begins within the first four weeks after the child’s birth.
Most babies with Erb’s palsy will recover completely within 12 months of age with proper treatment.
Most cases of Erb’s palsy are mild and can heal with frequent physical therapy.
Physical therapy activities for Erb’s palsy include:
The best type of physical therapy for your child depends on the issues they face. Stretches and range-of-motion exercises can improve a child’s control, while sensory activities can help to restore any lost feeling.
In addition to physical therapy, your child may also benefit from other types of therapy to help their brachial plexus heal.
Other Erb’s palsy therapies include:
Hydrotherapy: Physical therapy in water to minimize stress on the body and allow your child to move through therapy with less pain
Occupational therapy: Usually needed after surgery to help patients improve on day-to-day tasks such as eating, playing, and drawing
Botulinum toxin injections: Botox injections are used to reduce contractures (tightening of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons)"
For more information on Erb's Palsy, please visit: https://www.childbirthinjuries.com/erbs-palsy/
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