Erb’s Palsy FAQs

Quick Answer

Find answers to common questions about Erb’s palsy and where you can go for more information. Erb’s palsy may bring many concerns or worries, but you do not have to wait for a doctor to get the basic facts.

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How FAQs Can Help

If your child has been given an Erb’s palsy diagnosis, you likely have many questions. Unfortunately, getting answers is not always easy, especially if there are questions involving medical negligence in your child’s birth injury.

Below are common questions and answers regarding Erb’s palsy, its symptoms, treatment options and more. These answers provide useful information and insight as you seek treatment for your child’s condition.

What Is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy is an injury usually caused by difficulty during childbirth. It happens when the collection of nerves around the shoulder are damaged during a difficult delivery. The symptoms range from weakness in the arm or shoulder to no feeling in the arm or hand.

What Causes Erb’s Palsy?

The most common cause of Erb’s palsy is shoulder dystocia. This occurs when the baby’s shoulder becomes stuck under the mother’s pubic bone. If too much force is used when freeing the baby, the nerves in their neck and shoulder can stretch or tear. This stretching and tearing cause Erb’s palsy.

Common causes of Erb’s palsy include:

  • Pulling on the baby’s head and neck as the shoulders pass through the birth canal
  • Pulling the baby’s head, neck or shoulders during a head-first delivery
  • Pulling on the baby’s feet during a feet-first (breech) delivery, putting too much pressure on the infant’s raised arms

Any of these causes can be due to medical negligence.

Will My Child Get Better?

In many cases, yes. Most babies diagnosed with Erb’s palsy will eventually recover from their condition. If the nerves are damaged or injured, movement and feeling can return to the child’s affected arm.

If the damage was mild, Erb’s palsy can heal on its own in a few weeks or months. However, sometimes it will not heal on its own. For example, a brachial plexus avulsion occurs when the nerve root is cut from the spinal cord. This serious birth injury will never heal on its own.

How Is Erb’s Palsy Treated?

If your child’s Erb’s palsy does not heal on its own, there are some treatments that may speed up the recovery process. The most common treatments for Erb’s palsy are therapy and surgery.

Erb’s palsy physical therapy includes stretches and exercises to strengthen muscles. Movement allows the damage to heal so people can use the affected limbs. There are different types of physical therapy that suit different needs and preferences.

In some cases, the torn nerve can be mended by surgery. Nerve surgery is performed by specialized doctors. They will transfer nerves to the damaged area or free up existing nerves. These procedures allow feeling and use to return to the affected limb.

Was My Child’s Injury Preventable?

It depends on the situation. If you have an extremely difficult birth, your child may suffer nerve damage that leads to Erb’s palsy. However, Erb’s palsy can often be prevented with proper medical supervision.

In addition, doctors or nurses who pull too hard on a baby during delivery may accidentally damage their nerves. This can cause the baby to develop Erb’s palsy.

In cases where medical negligence plays a role, the condition was preventable. If you believe your child’s Erb’s palsy was caused by medical malpractice, speak to an experienced birth injury attorney today.

Did a Difficult Labor Cause My Child’s Erb’s Palsy?

In some cases, a difficult labor or complications with delivery may cause children to develop Erb’s palsy. A few different complications may cause Erb’s palsy in your child.

A common condition called shoulder dystocia is associated with a difficult labor and Erb’s palsy. Shoulder dystocia is when a baby’s shoulder gets caught on the mother’s pubic bone during a delivery. This can put pressure on the shoulder and cause nerve damage.

Shoulder dystocia and other issues may be more complicated if a doctor or nurse uses excessive force during a difficult delivery. Pulling on a baby too hard can cause nerve stretching or tearing. This damage leads to Erb’s palsy. If a medical practitioner used too much force when delivering your baby, they may have caused their Erb’s palsy.

What Are Common Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy?

The most common symptoms of Erb’s palsy are a lack of feeling or control in an arm, shoulder or hand. In more severe cases, the limb may be partly or totally paralyzed.

Symptoms may be hard to spot directly in the days or months after your child has been born. There are a few signs to watch for.  If you had a difficult delivery and your child does not seem to have movement in one arm or hand, he or she may have Erb’s palsy. Consult with your doctor to get more information if you are concerned about your child’s condition.

How Is Erb’s Palsy Diagnosed?

An experienced doctor or Erb’s palsy specialist will be able to diagnose the condition in your child. Doctors will first examine any physical symptoms your child may have. From there, doctors will typically use an MRI or a CT scan to determine the extent of the damage. From these tests, they can make a proper diagnosis. They will also be able to determine if the condition will heal on its own or if treatments are needed.

What Is the Prognosis for Erb’s Palsy?

Many mild cases of Erb’s palsy will get better on their own without treatment. These cases typically clear up after a few weeks or months. However, there are many cases where Erb’s palsy does not heal on its own. Sometimes, serious cases of Erb’s palsy will require surgery to help restore functioning in the arm or hand.

Does My Child Need an Erb’s Palsy Splint?

An Erb’s palsy splint can be an effective part of treatment for Erb’s palsy. They can be used to improve muscle tone and range of motion in the affected areas.

There are many different kinds of Erb’s palsy splints for different cases, and each type has its own use. For example, one patient might need an Erb’s palsy splint that stabilizes the elbow. Another might have one that gives stability at both the shoulder and the elbow for functional positioning of the hand.

Comprehensive Erb’s palsy treatment plans, including the use of Erb’s palsy splints, can greatly aid your child’s recovery.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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  3. Partridge, C., & Edwards, S. (2004). Obstetric brachial plexus palsy: increasing disability and exacerbation of symptoms with age. Physiotherapy Research International, 9(4), 157–163. doi: 10.1002/pri.319