Erb’s palsy is a physical condition that is typically the result of a nerve injury to a baby during delivery. Its severity can seriously impair the growth and development of a baby’s arm. The injury is usually suffered near a newborn’s neck. It’s at that location where the fifth and sixth cranial nerves join and begin to form the brachial plexus which is a network of nerves that transmits signals from the brain and spinal cord down to the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers. That’s known as Erb’s point. It’s named after the late German neurologist Wilhelm Erb.
Shoulder dystocia is a condition that can arise during a vaginal birth. It occurs when a baby’s head has been born, but a shoulder gets lodged behind the mother’s hip bone (pelvis). That interferes with the delivery of the rest of the baby’s body. Dystocia is an emergency. The baby’s shoulder must be freed so that the baby can breathe upon being born.
Some Possible Risk Factors
Shoulder dystocia only occurs in about one or two births out of every 1,000, and it’s difficult to predict. The risk of the condition might increase under the following circumstances:
- When the baby is large with a high birth weight.
- The baby’s head is facing in one direction, and his or her arm is being pulled in another direction.
- The baby is in a breech presentation and pulled through the birth canal by the legs.
- When the mother has a smaller than average pelvis.
- When the mother is in prolonged labor.
- If there was a prior delivery of a baby that struggled with shoulder dystocia.
When any of these conditions present themselves, doctors must recognize them and attempt to prevent shoulder dystocia.
It Can Be Permanent or Fatal
After a shoulder dystocia birth, the newborn must be carefully monitored. As a result of a baby’s shoulder being stuck in the pelvis and being pulled, the nerves of the brachial plexus can become stretched or even torn. That can result in loss of movement of the shoulder and arm, but the baby might be able to wiggle its fingers. In most cases, the condition is temporary, and movement will come quickly. Some babies will suffer permanent damage though. It will look as if the affected arm of the baby is paralyzed. A small minority of babies might die at birth from Erb’s palsy as a result of the inability to breathe.
Other Signs of Erbs’s Palsy
Lack of strength in the affected arm and loss of range of motion of it are also indicators of Erb’s palsy. Here are some other common signs of the disorder on the affected side:
- Decreased grip of the affected hand.
- Loss of sensory and motor function of the upper arm.
- Inhibited circulatory, muscular and nerve development.
How Erb’s palsy might be treated depends on the severity of the nerve damage. Referrals to specialists or multidisciplinary centers are recommended. There is general agreement that treatment should start as soon as possible. When nerve damage is mild, physical therapy, hydrotherapy or occupational therapy might be prescribed. In more serious cases involving torn nerves, surgery might be recommended. One estimate is that with proper therapy, including home therapy, Erb’s palsy will resolve in somewhere between 70% to 95% of all cases. If the condition isn’t diagnosed or treated, it could last for a victim’s lifetime.
Contact a Louisville Personal Injury Lawyer
Erb’s palsy can result in serious physical, financial and emotional consequences. If you believe that your child’s Erb’s palsy might have been caused by a preventable medical error by a doctor or midwife in or around Louisville, contact us by phone or our easy contact form to arrange for a free and confidential consultation. We are a compassionate, family oriented law firm with highly skilled attorneys who work with birth injuries everywhere in Kentucky.