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What is Erb's palsy?

Giving birth in Pennsylvania is a natural process, yet complications can and do occur. Erb's palsy is a complication that sometimes occurs during a difficult birth and can affect the function of your baby's arms. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, if complications required your doctor or midwife to deliver your baby quickly and forcefully, if your labor was prolonged, if your baby presented as a breech or was unusually large at birth, he or she may be at risk for Erb's palsy. Symptoms to watch for include paralysis or weakness of the baby's arm. The nerve damage that causes Erb's palsy usually only affects one side at a time. 

Erb's palsy belongs to a larger category of brachial plexus palsies. Brachial plexus injuries resulting in arm dysfunction can occur at any age, but Erb's palsy refers specifically to arm weakness or paralysis affecting babies and resulting directly from a birth injury. Nerves that run between the upper extremity and the spinal cord and control function of the hand and arm come together near the neck to form the brachial plexus. Stress placed on the baby's neck and/or shoulder during childbirth can damage some of these nerves due to stretching. Erb's palsy results from damage to specific nerves within the baby's brachial plexus. 

Four types of damage to the baby's nerves can occur, and Erb's palsy may result from any or all of them: 

  • Avulsion: A nerve becomes torn away from the spinal cord
  • Rupture: Tearing of the nerves themselves; ruptured nerves do not heal
  • Neuroma: Scar tissue that develops on the nerve
  • Neurapraxia: A shock to the nerve that does not result in tearing

The main treatment method for Erb's palsy is physical therapy on a daily basis. Your doctor or a physical therapist can show you how to perform the necessary exercises on your baby. If physical therapy yields no results, your baby may require surgery to correct the dysfunction.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only. 

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