Overview of Erb's palsy

Erb's palsy is one form of brachial plexus injury that may arise during birth. The brachial plexus refers to a network of nerve fibers emanating from the cervical and thoracic portions of the spine that intertwines as it reaches out to the armpit region. It then becomes a network of nerves as it enters the arm. Washington residents should know that the brachial plexus controls movement in the shoulders, arms and hands.

What happens in a case of Erb's palsy is that the nerve fibers are stretched due to the head and shoulders being moved in opposite directions. This can occur with shoulder dystocia, the condition that arises when the baby's head is deviated away from the shoulder to allow the shoulders to clear the birth canal. Erb's palsy also develops during C-section deliveries.

The result can be weakness and loss of sensation in the shoulder and elbow muscles. The risk for Erb's palsy increases with large infants, small mothers, a low or mid-cavity forceps delivery or second-stage labor that exceeds 60 minutes.

Studies suggest that in more than 90 percent of individuals with Erb's palsy, there is some measure of spontaneous recovery. Where there is no surgical intervention, 20 to 25 percent of patients do experience significant impairment later in life. Surgery and physical therapy are the best treatment.

Many birth injuries are caused by doctor negligence. When this is the case, parents may want to consult with an attorney. During the case evaluation, a client may find out if they have good grounds for a claim. The attorney might request an inquiry with the local medical board and hire third parties to conduct their own investigation. With legal assistance, the parents may be able to achieve a fair settlement.

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