Erb’s Palsy: A Devastating Birth Injury

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According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), one or two out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. has Erb's Palsy. In most cases, symptoms of this birth injury disappear within the first few months of the baby's life. Unfortunately, when the infant doesn't heal on their own, the prognosis is often grim.

What is Erb's Palsy? The term "palsy" refers to paralysis, weakness or tremors in any part of the body, which is frequently brought about by some type of nerve damage. In this case, Dr. Wilhelm Erb was one of the first doctors to take note of the condition. Although a victim of Erb's Palsy may have other disorders caused by the same event as well, this condition specifically relates to an issue with the brachial plexus, or nerves of the upper arm. How Erb's Palsy is Diagnosed The condition is usually first noticed when a newborn does not move one arm, but can move his fingers or hands. Although some doctors will still refer to it as Erb's Palsy if the infant does not move his hand as well, this is usually indicative, more severe, or global, nerve damage. Babies who have Erb's Palsy routinely show the following symptoms:
  • Absence of the Moro reflex, also called the startle reflex, but only on the affected arm
  • A tightly flexed or bent arm, held snugly against the body
  • Decreased grip strength of the hand on the affected side
Prognosis When symptoms are noted during a physical exam, the attending physician will attempt to rule out other possible causes, such as a bone fracture. If no other causes are noted for the paralysis, the doctor will generally recommend a wait-and-see approach, paired with hands-on care from the parents to ensure the arm receives exercise and stimulation. If the nerves heal on their own, it can take as much as two years for complete recovery. During this phase, physical therapy, massage, exercise and play are widely recommended to keep the muscles active and blood flowing normally. If no change is noticed in the first three to six months, doctors generally begin to look for more invasive treatments to help. Surgeries, such as nerve grafts or nerve transfers are often recommended, and patients may need repeated surgeries over a long period of time to receive relief. If surgery is unsuccessful, it then becomes a matter of managing symptoms and learning to live with the disorder. The overall prognosis depends largely on the extent of the damage, whether the nerves have simply been stretched or were torn, where the separation occurred and how much scar tissue is present. Causes of Erb's Palsy Most often, medical experts will say the condition is caused by a "difficult delivery." This is only a half-truth. While nerve damage can occur during a normal delivery if the baby becomes stuck in the birth canal, or if the shoulder is delivered after the head, many cases can be identified early and prevented with a c-section. This is also true when the baby is in a breech, or other abnormal position, prior to birth. Other times, the doctor may directly cause the birth injury by using excessive force. For instance, if the doctor pulls on the baby's arms during delivery, uses a vacuum or forceps improperly during delivery.

Charleston Birth Injury Attorney

Because Erb's Palsy can require a lifetime of care, it's essential that you seek legal representation as soon as you have a diagnosis. Most often, obtaining a lawyer helps to ensure the medical team provides the best possible care after the injury, which increases the likelihood of full recovery. A court may also award reparations for medical bills, a parents' time away from work, pain and suffering, and long-term care or therapy, among other things. If your child was injured due to a doctor's actions, or failure to act, please contact our law firm. Our online formis available, or you may speak with one of our lawyers now by calling 1(800)610-2546.

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Clore Law Group welcomes your questions about any issues concerning a serious personal injury, car accident, medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, business tort, or workplace injury. If you have a viable claim, we’ll explain the legal process. Since consultations are always free, there’s no cost in learning your legal options.