Erb’s palsy occurs when a baby’s upper arms sustain damage or injury during delivery (usually as a result of unnatural overstretching) at the point where the shoulder meets the neck. This point is known as Erb’s point, hence the name. It can happen as a result of an obstruction, the child being in an abnormal position before birth, complications that involve the birth canal, or as a result of forceps used to assist in extracting the baby during delivery. That’s why it is difficult to pinpoint who is to blame. When it first occurs, many medical professionals describe it as a frightening illness.
Some of the risk factors of Erb’s palsy can be identified by medical professionals before or during the delivery, reducing the chances of causing harm to the newborn. However, the illness still affects one or two babies out of every 1,000 or so, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It affects the nerves that are responsible for controlling the movement of the baby’s arms, hands, and fingers, meaning the effects of the illness are most pronounced in these areas.
Depending on the severity of the injury and the aggressiveness of the treatments that are administered, a baby with Erb’s palsy can have a range of prognoses. In general, Erb’s palsy is treated by therapy that is provided by a multidisciplinary team comprised of physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, and neurosurgeons.
Erb’s palsy that is classified as either mild or moderate can be expected to disappear between three and six months, with about four-fifths of all cases clearing up within 12 months, provided the right treatment is provided. However, in some cases, the effects can be lifelong, with some babies never fully regaining full function of their arms, hands, or fingers.
Beyond the physical, long-term psychological health issues can also arise in children suffering from Erb’s palsy. Low self-esteem, an inability to participate in sports or actively socialize with other kids as they might otherwise do, anger, and frustration over an inability to fully control their arm or hand can lead to a wide range of behavioral issues in children growing up with the lingering effects of Erb’s palsy.
Management and Care
A few things regarding Erb’s palsy are worth noting. Firstly, the prognosis for Erb’s palsy is usually quite positive, and most children born with the condition fully recover and experience little to no lasting effects. The illness itself is a weakness or paralysis of varying degrees in the shoulder on down to the fingers. Although it is most often seen in childbirth, adults can also develop it.
That said, proper care and rehabilitative regimens can greatly improve the outlook of recovery for patients suffering from Erb’s palsy. While rehab and therapy are by no means cheap, and while treatment for Erb’s palsy can place a significant strain on the financial well-being of the family of the injured individual, gentle exercises, cautious movements of the arm, range-of-motion exercises, gentle stretching, regular stimulation, and gentle massages, all of which can be done at home, can drastically reduce recovery times. Counseling and therapy can also help improve the outlook of the patient, helping them to overcome any shortcomings – whether real or perceived – in their lives.
If your child or that of a loved one was born with Erb’s palsy, seek legal assistance. Erb’s palsy is often preventable, and it could be that a third-party was responsible for the injury. Treating Erb’s palsy can be expensive, so call an expert to learn about your legal options and how to proceed with filing a claim if a negligent third-party was responsible for your child’s Erb’s palsy.