Other Birth Injuries -
(Brachial Plexus Injury)
Erb's Palsy deals with the inability of a newborn to move one arm due to an injury to the Brachial Plexus. The Brachial Plexus is the network of spinal nerves that range from the spine through the neck into the arm that provides movement and sensation to the arm, hand and fingers (as shown on the right).
Injury to the brachial plexus usually occurs during a difficult delivery. If the baby is large or in a breech position, the medical assistant to the delivery sometimes exerts some sort of force to pull the baby out of the birth canal. This procedure stretches the baby's neck which can cause a tear or damage the nerves resulting in Erb's palsy.
There are four main types of injuries to the brachial plexus:
- Avulsion Injuries occur when the nerve attached to the spinal cord is torn (most serious).
- Rupture Injuries occur when the nerve, not at the spinal cord, is torn.
- Neuroma Injuries occur when scar tissue forms and exerts pressure on the nerve.
- Stretch Injuries occur when the nerve is damaged, but not torn. These are the most common brachial plexus
injuries and they usually heal within 3 months.
Some symptoms to indicate Erb's palsy is if the newborn has the potentially affected arm straight down and if the case is more severe then the newborn may have a droopy eye on the affected side.
Since Erb's palsy can recover without surgery, the baby may have multiple examinations to observe how the nerves are recovering by themselves. The recovery process can take up to 2 years and it is important to keep doing routine range of motion therapy exercises.