When a delivery is difficult, a baby may sustain nerve damage, which could result in Erb’s palsy. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that palsy means weakness, and the weakness, in this case, is from stretched brachial plexus nerves.
A baby with Erb’s palsy may have a limited amount of sensation or mobility in one arm. Paralysis of the arm is also possible.
Levels of nerve damage
Most often, the nerves stretch but do not tear, and this level of damage, neuropraxia, typically heals within three to six months without the need for treatment. If the damage results in scar tissue that presses on the nerve, this neuroma may prevent total recovery.
A rupture or avulsion is much more serious because the nerve tears apart, or tears away from the spinal cord. A torn nerve fiber will not heal without treatment, and even then, the infant may not make a full recovery.
Causes of nerve damage
According to the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, nerve damage frequently happens as the baby moves through the birth canal when a doctor must intervene to prevent the baby from becoming stuck. The doctor may move the infant’s head and shoulder in opposite directions while using forceps or vacuum extraction or simply in poorly performing the delivery. However, Erb’s palsy can also occur during a C-section.
A physical therapist usually teaches parents how to perform daily arm movement exercises for their child to maintain range of motion and prevent stiffness. Sometimes, this is all that is necessary as the nerve fibers heal. About 25% of Erb’s palsy patients who do not undergo surgery report having significant impairment later in life.
If surgery is necessary to graft or transfer healthy nerve fibers, this will likely be the most effective if a surgeon performs the procedure during the first year. However, it may take two years for the recovery to be complete.
When the injury occurs because of a health care provider’s negligence, parents may be able to hold that person and the facility liable for the losses the child is likely to suffer in life, as well as medical expenses and other financial damages.