Despite the fact that many people, including doctors, are prone to comment on the resilience of newborn babies, young infants are particularly vulnerable to numerous types of medical conditions and injuries. The birthing process itself can present a number of serious risks for babies, including nerve damage and permanent disability in some cases. Erb’s palsy is a type of birth injury that affects countless babies every year.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons explains that Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus palsy. Brachial plexus palsy is characterized as weakness or loss of motion in the shoulder and/or arm, hand and fingers as a result of nerve damage. The injury often occurs in babies at the time of birth, and in situations where delivery complications arise. The baby’s brachial plexus network of nerves, which extends from the vertebrae behind the collarbone down the length of the arm, becomes stretched and/or otherwise damaged.
Specifically, Erb’s palsy is identified as damage to the upper nerves in the brachial plexus network. An infant with Erb’s palsy may be able to move his or her fingers, but may have loss of mobility in the shoulder. Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus palsy can be diagnosed using various techniques, including x-ray, ultrasound and EMG tests.
Treatment options for Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus birth palsy can depend upon multiple factors, including the nature and severity of the injury. For instance, mild cases of Erb’s palsy are often treated with extensive physical therapy and range of motion exercises, which can often begin in babies as young as three weeks old. In more severe cases, however, surgery may be necessary and can involve nerve grafting or nerve transferring. Some children with Erb’s palsy make a full recovery, but others experience permanent weakness and/or loss of mobility in the affected arm. Beyond that, nerve damage can result in growth delays in the arm as well.