Roughly one in every 1,000 infants suffers from a condition known as Erb’s palsy, which may cause a loss of function in an arm. Erb’s palsy arises from damage to a group of nerves known as the brachial plexus. These nerves transmit messages from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. Mild forms of brachial plexus injuries involve stretching these nerves, while more serious injuries may tear a nerve or even separate the nerve from the spinal cord. Children with Erb’s palsy usually recover from the condition, but treatments may be complex and costly. Moreover, living with Erb’s palsy can disrupt a child’s life in many ways by interfering with ordinary activities.
Erb’s Palsy vs. Klumpke’s Palsy
While Erb’s palsy is similar to another brachial plexus condition known as Klumpke’s palsy, it typically affects the shoulder and the upper arm, whereas Klumpke’s palsy affects the forearm and the hand.
Erb’s palsy may result from vigorous pulling by health care providers during labor and delivery. For example, the brachial plexus may sustain injuries from pulling on the shoulders when a baby is born head-first, or pulling on the feet when a baby is born in a breech position. Stretching or tearing also may occur when the head and neck are pulled away from the shoulder in the birth canal. Conditions often linked to Erb’s palsy include clavicle fractures and shoulder dystocia, in which the shoulder gets lodged against the pubic bone of the mother.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Erb’s Palsy
Signs and symptoms of Erb’s palsy vary depending on the scope of the injury to the brachial plexus. However, children often suffer from limpness, numbness, or tingling in the affected area, as well as weak or undeveloped muscles. They may struggle to grasp objects or show a preference for using just one hand. Some severe cases of Erb’s palsy may involve partial or total paralysis of the affected area.
A prompt diagnosis of this condition can accelerate the treatment process and improve the prognosis. To determine whether a child has developed Erb’s palsy, a doctor may combine a physical examination with imaging tests, such as an MRI and a CT scan. This can reveal the scope of the damage to the nerves. A doctor also may perform a nerve conduction study, which assesses the function of motor and sensory nerves.
Treatment for Erb’s Palsy
A doctor should devise a treatment plan as soon as possible after diagnosing Erb’s palsy, ideally within the first four weeks of life. If treatment goes well, most children should recover before turning one year old. Relatively mild cases may be resolved through physical therapy, but surgery may be required in more serious cases, especially if nerves have been torn or separated from the spinal cord.
Physical therapy may involve stretching and other exercises that restore the range of motion and sensory functions in the area. Sometimes a parent can help perform these exercises with a child at home. Other non-surgical interventions may include occupational therapy that assists a child with everyday activities, hydrotherapy to reduce discomfort, and Botox injections that relieve muscle tension.
Surgery for Erb’s Palsy
If therapy does not resolve Erb’s palsy, the nerves may need surgical intervention to heal. A doctor may remove damaged nerve fibers, or they may transfer healthy nerves from another part of the body to the affected area. Surgery has a high success rate in these cases.
Compensation for Erb’s Palsy
While a majority of Erb’s palsy cases resolve completely, some cases may result in permanent disabilities. Even if a child recovers, their family may incur substantial costs involving therapy and surgery, and the child may have suffered severe, persistent pain. When a medical professional caused Erb’s palsy through their preventable mistakes, a family can hold them accountable for the consequences. Compensation in birth injury cases may cover medical costs and other expenses, as well as the pain and suffering endured by the child. If the child has a permanent disability, compensation can account for future losses as well.
Parents should act promptly if their child has been diagnosed with Erb’s palsy. This diagnosis often indicates medical malpractice, so they should find out whether they have a claim. They also must bring their claim within the applicable statute of limitations in their state. This is a rule that prevents a lawsuit from being filed after a certain amount of time has passed. An experienced birth injury attorney can assist with meeting deadlines such as the statute of limitations, retaining expert witnesses, complying with the distinctive procedural rules governing these cases, and crafting a strategy to maximize compensation.