Erb’s Palsy is a condition that affects the nerves that extend from the neck and shoulder area to the upper extremities. These nerves control the muscles in the arms and hands, so it can lead to a lifetime of difficulty if Erb’s Palsy occurs as the result of nerve damage during birth. One of the most common causes of this condition is shoulder dystocia, which happens when a baby’s shoulders get stuck on the pelvic bone of the mother. Doctors can contribute to the development of Erb’s Palsy if they use excessive force or force that is misdirected when repositioning a baby in the birth canal.
Four types of Erb’s Palsy can affect a newborn baby. The mildest form is neuropraxia, which is also the most common form. This form of the condition results in a block of nerve impulse conduction, but does not result in an anatomical deformity. Newborns may recover from this form of the condition within six weeks. Another form of Erb’s Palsy is a neuroma, which is an area of scar tissue that has formed around a nerve injury. While nerve damage has occurred, the nerve has not been torn and improvement can be seen in as little as three months (traumatic brain injury).
Ruptures and avulsions are more serious forms of Erb’s Palsy. A rupture means that the nerve has torn, but not at the point of attachment to the spine. An avulsion means that the nerve is torn from the spine. Both of these are very serious and can lead to lifelong complications for newborns who are born with this condition. Function of the arm may not be possible or it may be severely limited. The arm may appear limp and weak. Even if the condition resolves within the first year of life, many children with Erb’s Palsy need to have physical therapy to keep their joints functional.
Erb’s Palsy can usually be detected visually because the baby can be seen lying with the affected arm at the side. Symptoms of this condition can include lack of control over arm movements, inability to use the shoulder or elbow, paralysis of the entire arm, limpness of the hand and fingers, facial paralysis on the affected side of the baby, an inability to sit up without help, and an inability to crawl without assistance from family members or medical devices. Treatment for the condition can include physical therapy and daily exercises that can help to improve joint and muscle function. Surgery can also benefit some children with Erb’s Palsy.
If your child developed Erb’s Palsy as the result of inappropriate delivery actions on the part of a physician or care provider, you need to consult with a personal injury attorney to discuss getting the compensation you need to cover physical therapy and other medical expenses. At Napoli Bern Ripka LLP, we can review the records of your child’s delivery to determine if you have an actionable claim. If you decide to file suit, we will work with you every step of the way to ensure that you understand what is happening.