A relatively rare but serious condition, Klumpke’s palsy arises from brachial plexus injuries during childbirth. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves attached to the spinal cord at the neck. They transmit signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand, helping regulate sensory and motor functions. Damage to the brachial plexus may involve stretching or tearing a nerve, or even separating it from the spinal cord in some extreme cases.
Klumpke’s Palsy vs. Erb’s Palsy
While Klumpke’s palsy is similar to another brachial plexus condition known as Erb’s palsy, it typically affects the forearm and hand, whereas Erb’s palsy affects the shoulder and upper arm.
Certain factors increase the risk of Klumpke’s palsy in an infant. These include maternal age and size, gestational diabetes, high birth weight, breech birth, an overdue pregnancy, and induced labor, among others. This condition generally arises from birth trauma, which may involve medical errors. For example, a doctor may not properly use forceps or may pull the neck and head away from the shoulder when bringing a baby out of the birth canal. This places stress on the brachial plexus on that side, which may lead to stretching and tearing nerves.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Klumpke’s Palsy
The majority of Klumpke’s palsy cases involve the right arm. Some common symptoms of this condition include:
Reduced range of motion
Hand curled into a "claw" shape
Atrophy (a condition in which tissue or an organ wastes away)
If a doctor suspects Klumpke’s palsy after examining a child, they may conduct certain imaging tests, such as X-rays and ultrasounds. A diagnosis also may rely on electromyography and nerve conduction studies. Electromyography analyzes the electrical activity in skeletal muscles, while a nerve conduction study measures the electrical conduction capacity and other functions of motor and sensory nerves.
Treatment for Klumpke’s Palsy
If Klumpke’s palsy goes undiagnosed and untreated, it can worsen over time and cause permanent disabilities. Thus, treatment should start as soon as it is diagnosed. A treatment plan may be simple if Klumpke’s palsy has not caused any fractures or dislocations. Stretching exercises and other techniques to strengthen the muscles can forestall muscle atrophy and joint stiffness.
More severe forms of this condition may require surgery. This may involve nerve grafting or nerve transfer, in which a doctor takes a healthy nerve from another part of the body to repair or replace a damaged nerve. Over the long term, physical therapy can build strength in the affected area. Electrical stimulation devices can build tissue and boost the circulation of blood.
Compensation for Costs Related to Klumpke’s Palsy
Most children with mild symptoms of this condition will experience no long-term effects and live a normal or near-normal life. If a child suffers from severe symptoms of Klumpke’s palsy, however, they may develop permanent disabilities. These may include numbness, arm limpness, or even complete paralysis in the affected area, as well as a clawed hand. Any of these issues may cause severe pain, limit activities, and reduce quality of life.
Unfortunately, some children needlessly develop Klumpke’s palsy because of medical errors during childbirth. Sometimes errors while using instruments such as vacuum extractors or forceps cause this condition. In other situations, a doctor should have recognized a high risk of Klumpke’s palsy due to the presence of certain factors and performed a C-section. If a doctor did not meet the professional standard of care, parents can sue them for medical malpractice. This can allow a family to obtain economic and non-economic damages.
Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages
While economic damages cover financial costs such as medical expenses and the costs of future treatment, non-economic damages cover subjective harm such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
Prompt action is essential when pursuing a birth injury lawsuit. Time limits known as statutes of limitations apply to these claims. If a case is not brought within the statute of limitations, a court likely will dismiss it, regardless of its substantive merits. Thus, parents should consult a birth injury attorney as soon as possible once they suspect malpractice. Most lawyers offer free consultations and collect their fees only as a percentage of any compensation collected for a client.