Nerve Damage and Brachial Plexus Injuries That Cause Erb’s Palsy

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After several discussions with your wife, and countless hours on the internet looking up symptoms and possible ailments, you finally decided to take your seven-month-old baby boy to a specialist. Ever since he was born he’s had issues moving his left arm. The doctor who delivered him assured both you and his mother that it was merely a sprained muscle from the delivery and that it should heal on its own. However, it’s been over half a year and he hasn’t shown much improvement. Instead of using both of his arms to reach out and grab toys, he keeps his left one close to his body and barely moves it. When you physically pick it up to dress him, he whines in pain. You just can’t stand seeing your son suffer, even when the doctor sticks to his story that if you leave it alone it will “eventually” heal—eventually just isn’t good enough.

You are now sitting in a new pediatrician’s office, waiting for the doctor to come back with his results. Although you wish that you’re wrong and that there is nothing wrong with him, you know in your heart that the news isn’t going to be good. After what feels like an eternity, the doctor returns and gives you the diagnosis: Presumed Erb’s palsy.

She explained that Erb’s palsy, or brachial plexus palsy, is an injury usually sustained during birth, where the nerves in the neck and shoulders (brachial plexus nerves) stretch, snap, or otherwise become damaged. The brachial plexus nerves are a network of nerves near the neck that control all of the nerves in the arm. These nerves provide movement and feeling to the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. However, if these nerves are damaged as a result of an overzealous doctor or too much pressure on the head, the resulting injury could lead to partial paralysis of the arm and shoulder.

She then stated that she would have to run further tests to distinguish the severity of the injury. Since the damage is more than six months old and still presents problems, she is worried that it could be a rupture or an avulsion, as opposed to the more minor neurapraxia or neuroma injuries.

Avulsion? Rupture? Neuroma? What do these mean? Is your son going to be okay? What did the doctor do to cause such a problem? What can you do to make sure your son doesn’t suffer anymore?

Types of Brachial Plexus Injuries

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that one out of every 1,000 newborns experience some type of Erb’s palsy as a direct result of their heads being overly forced to one side during delivery. When the head is pushed, the nerves become vulnerable to over stretching, damaging tears, and painful sprains. Depending on the severity of the stretch, your baby could suffer one of four different types of injuries with varied physical results. These four types include:

  • Neurapraxia injury – Neck muscles are stretched enough to "shock" the nerve, but not tear it. A neurapraxia injury is the most common form of a brachial plexus injury and will generally heal on its own within three months.
  • Neuroma injury – When the stretch causes enough damage in the brachial nerves to break blood vessels and create obtrusive scar tissue. This scar tissue presses on the remaining healthy nerves, causing a "neuroma" that prohibits the seemingly healthy nerves from fully functioning. Some, but not total recovery usually occurs.
  • Rupture – If the stretch is so intense that it causes the nerve to be torn apart, it is considered to be a ruptured Erb’s palsy. This type of injury will not heal on its own and could cause permanent damage. It can be repaired by grafting healthy nerves from your baby’s other shoulder onto the damaged nerves. However, full recovery is unlikely and partial paralysis will likely be permanent.
  • Avulsion – Avulsions are the worst type of Erb’s palsy and occur when the brachial nerves are torn from the spinal cord. This type of injury is unfortunately impossible to repair, and will cause permanent arm paralysis and the possibility of a spinal cord injury as well.

Seeking Justice for Your Baby’s Suffering

From the second that he arrived into the world, your baby has been fighting and suffering from someone else’s mistakes. First his doctor hurt him, then you, his own father, foolishly believed the assurances of the same man who hurt him. His entire life your son has relied on others to take care of him, while silently suffering—but not anymore. You’re going to take up his fight and make sure that he gets the justice, care, and support that he should’ve had from the beginning. Contact us today if you believe that your child has sustained a brachial plexus injury as a result of a careless, overzealous, or incompetent delivery. He and your family may be entitled to malpractice compensation and damages for medical treatment. Contact us today for a free consultation and review of your family’s case. Remember, your son is depending on you—don’t let him down. 

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