Posted: February 4, 2019

Erb’s palsy is a nerve injury that can occur during birth when the nerves in a baby’s upper arm are stretched, torn or damaged. Many babies with Erb’s palsy cannot move their arms or shoulders and some babies are unable to move their hands or fingers. 

Erb’s palsy is most often a result of shoulder dystocia, a complication in which an infant’s shoulders become stuck in the mother’s pelvis. The size of the baby is a common cause for Erb’s palsy. Awkward positioning of the baby’s head during delivery can increase risks for shoulder dystocia as well, requiring great skill and attention to safely reposition the baby for easier delivery. Erb’s palsy can occur when some amount of force is needed to remove the baby from the birth canal, resulting in injury to the nerves.

Identifying Erb’s Palsy

Symptoms of Erb’s palsy may include weakness in one arm, the favoring of one arm over the other, or complete paralysis of an arm. This may present as difficulty with gripping or holding and may become increasingly noticeable as a child develops. There may also be noticeable physical differences between the affected and unaffected arms with one being larger and more developed than the other.

A limp arm held to the side of the body may indicate Erb’s palsy - particularly if the elbow is constantly bent. This symptom, along with any shoulder weakness or arm palsy, should be checked by a trusted medical professional.

If Erb’s palsy is present, treatment is available - and treatment may help reduce risks of complications such as:

  • Loss of sensory function
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Impaired development of muscles
  • Impaired circulation and nerve function

When treated early, many Erb’s palsy cases may be able to be reversed.

Treating Erb’s Palsy

The earlier treatment for Erb’s palsy begins, the better the prognosis. In fact, many babies who receive prompt treatment are able to fully recover from brachial plexus injury, but this is not always the case - anywhere between 20 to 30% of Erb’s palsy patients may continue to experience problems throughout their lives.

Treatment options for Erb’s palsy include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Massage
  • BOTOX® injections
  • TENS therapy
  • Microsurgical techniques
  • Exploratory surgery
  • Nerve grafting

Your pediatric neurologist will best be able to determine which method or methods of treatment will produce the most desirable results. In some cases, a multidisciplinary approach will be favored, though others may be treatable with a single solution. It may take months or even years for nonsurgical techniques to produce desirable results.

Understanding Your Rights

Erb’s palsy is a birth injury. This is different than a birth defect, which is something beyond the control of medical staff. When your baby suffers an injury during labor or delivery, you may be entitled to seek compensation for medical expenses and related damages through a medical malpractice lawsuit. Talking to an experienced attorney can help you determine if this is a good option for your family.

Remember, it is a good idea to speak with a birth injury lawyer before you accept an offer from an insurance company. You may waive your right to seek full compensation if you accept a settlement and, all too often, insurance settlements are insufficient.

To schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our medical malpractice lawyers, please call 800-243-1100 today. Kline & Specter, PC maintains, has more than 40 attorneys, including five doctor/lawyers – the most of any firm in the nation – among them two who are OB-GYNs. The firm has offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. For cases outside those states, Kline & Specter works with local attorneys in each state as applicable.