How Erb’s Palsy Injuries Can Occur During Labor and Delivery?
Most babies are born without any complications; however, a small percentage of newborns have medical issues that may have been caused at birth, including injuries to nerves and joints. This is especially true in breech deliveries, or forced inductions when an infant’s brachial plexus becomes injured. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves located near the shoulder. The nerves connect the physical function of the body to the spinal cord and brain. The brachial plexus is located on both sides of the infant’s body. Therefore, it can be injured when force is used to assist in the baby’s birth by a doctor who may haphazardly use forceps, a vacuum, or their hands to pull an infant who may be stuck in the birth canal during labor. When this occurs, the baby’s neck and shoulders become stretched, and damage to the brachial plexus is likely – but still avoidable.
Babies who suffer from this injury could have lifelong disabilities and cause an irreversible condition called Erb’s palsy. Erb’s palsy is also known by other names such as Erb–Duchenne palsy, shoulder dystocia, or radial nerve palsy. These are all forms of damage to the brachial plexus nerves. As a result, the arm muscles on one side of the body cannot move properly, causing the arm and shoulder to droop. In addition, as children age, they may have ongoing tingling in the hand or arm, making it challenging to participate in sports and efficiently perform simple activities such as eating, grooming, writing, and playing musical instruments.
An infant’s entire arm, including the hand and fingers, may be affected, while sometimes, only a slight reduction in movement is detected at first. As the child ages and becomes more mobile, children with Erb’s palsy will require continued monitoring and new types of extended physical therapies. In addition, alternative forms of caregiving and expenses will be needed to support the child and their best hope for recovery.
How Do Doctor’s Diagnose and Treat Erb’s Palsy?
A newborn who suffers from Erb’s palsy will almost always begin to exhibit signs immediately. However, the injury varies significantly from child to child, depending on the extent of the damage sustained. Usually, only one arm is affected. According to the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, a diagnosis is based on physical examination and specific tests. These tests usually include an EMG (to test the integrity of the nerve and muscle fibers) and an imaging study (MRI or CT – myelogram).
The most common symptoms parents notice in a newborn with Erb’s palsy might include:
- Muscle weakness in one arm
- Limp arm bent at the elbow
- Limited ability to grip items
- Numbness or lack of feeling in the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, or fingers
- Arm paralysis (partial or complete)
- Limited muscular or nerve development in the arm or hand
Sometimes the brachial plexus is damaged from pulling or stretching and will improve over time. In many of Erb’s palsy cases, the child will not lose total function of the arm but will have some movement. This may be improved through intensive rehabilitation for months or years. Unfortunately, some children suffering from an Erb’s palsy injury will never fully recover and instead suffer permanent damage and a lifelong disability. Mayo Clinic identifies these temporary or permanent problems in children who grow into adults with Erb’s palsy.
- Stiff joints. If you experience paralysis of your hand or arm, your joints can stiffen. This can make movement difficult, even if you eventually regain use of your limb. For that reason, your doctor is likely to recommend ongoing physical therapy during your recovery.
- Pain. This results from nerve damage and may become chronic.
- Numbness. If you lose feeling in your arm or hand, you run the risk of burning or injuring yourself without knowing it.
- Muscle atrophy. Nerves regrow slowly and can take several years to heal after injury. During that time, lack of use may cause the affected muscles to break down.
- Permanent disability. How well you recover from a severe brachial plexus injury depends on a number of factors, including your age and the type, location, and severity of the injury. Even with surgery, some people experience permanent muscle weakness or paralysis.
Klumpke’s palsy can also occur with Erb’s palsy. Klumpke’s palsy is when the nerves in the lower brachial plexus are damaged and results in paralysis of the hand and wrist. Klumpke’s palsy can also cause the eyelid to droop on the side opposite to the affected hand.
Determining if a Preventable Medical Mistake Caused Your Child’s Birth Injury
Doctors are expected to use their experience and education to keep patients safe from harm. However, a severe injury to an infant’s brachial plexus is almost always a sign of medical negligence. When the baby is in distress due to a complication during delivery, the doctor must use care to prevent further harm and resolve the situation. An assisted birth may be avoided if the doctor knows that the baby is at risk for a difficult delivery. In these cases, an emergency c-section may be necessary to reduce the risk of birth injuries.
Nationally Recognized Attorneys with Record-Setting Personal Injury Claims
Medical treatments and physical therapy are expensive for Erb’s palsy cases. However, the child and parents may be entitled to compensation to cover the medical bills and the loss of everyday, ordinary life. An experienced birth injury attorney from our team can discuss your situation and explain the options available to you. We can work with insurance companies and other parties involved in your case to assure that you and your baby’s needs will be resolved expediently.
Call the compassionate birth injury attorneys at Levin & Perconti to discuss your case at 877-374-1417 or 312-332-2872 to set up a free consultation, and we can begin to help you better understand your legal options.