What causes Erb’s Palsy?

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(Newswire.net — February 21, 2018) — Erb’s palsy, also known as Erb-Duchenne palsy, is a condition causing paralysis of the upper arm. It is caused by damage to nerves of the upper arm during birth, most commonly where there are issues with delivery of the baby due to the baby’s shoulder being obstructed by the mother’s pelvis.

Erb’s palsy only affects around 1 or 2 babies out of every 1000 and can result in either total or partial paralysis of the arm. There are various treatment options that can be used to repair the underlying damage and deal with the symptoms. Many babies with Erb’s palsy will make a complete recovery with the right treatment, while others will be left with life long effects. 

Causes of Erb’s palsy

Erb’s palsy is caused by damage to the brachial plexus, a network of nerves located where the shoulder meets the neck. In particular, the condition is due to damage at the Erb’s point, where six different types of nerves meet. If the nerves here are damage or severed, it can lead to either partial or complete loss of control over the arm or reduced range of movement.

Erb’s palsy normally occurs during a difficult birth and there are 3 main causes: 

  1. The baby passes through the birth canal at an unusual angle, causing the head and arm to move in opposite directions.
  2. Excessive pulling on the shoulders when the baby is delivered face first.
  3. The baby is born legs first, causing the shoulders to be pulled back over the head during delivery. 

Risk factors for Erb’s palsy

There are various factors that can increase the risk of Erb’s palsy. The medical team handling your birth should be aware of these issues and be prepared to take appropriate action if a problem occurs or looks likely to occur.

Common risk factors for Erb’s palsy include: 

  • A large baby
  • A small mother
  • An overweight mother
  • The use of forceps or vacuum extraction tools
  • The second stage of labor lasting more than 1 hour
  • The baby being in the breech position

Treatment for Erb’s palsy 

Depending on the severity of the damage, treatment options may include surgery, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. 

Surgery for Erb’s palsy – This may involve grafting a non-essential nerve from a nearby area over a torn or severed nerve. 

Physiotherapy for Erb’s palsy – This could include gentle massage as well as exercises to improve strength and flexibility and stimulate nerve function. Your physiotherapist may recommend exercises for you to carry out with your child on your own.

Occupational therapy for Erb’s palsy – This will involve a therapist assessing your child, working out what issues their condition is causing them in their daily life and coming up with exercises and strategies to help overcome those issues.

Providing support for a child with Erb’s palsy 

If your child has been left with on-going complications due to Erb’s palsy caused by medical negligence during their birth, you may be able to claim birth injury compensation. A specialist Erb’s palsy lawyer will be able to advise you on all aspects of making a claim, which can then be used to fund treatment, support and special equipment they need, helping to minimize any long term negative impact on your child.