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A Quick Look At Erb's Palsy

A Quick Look At Erb's Palsy By Joseph Devine



Erb's palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy, is a fairly common birth injury, affecting about 2 of every 1,000 newborns.

 Erb's palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy, is a fairly common birth injury, affecting about 2 of every 1,000 newborns. Though in most cases it is not considered a severe problem, Erb's palsy can result in stunted growth and permanently impaired motion in a child's arm.

Causes and Symptoms

Erb's palsy is caused by damage to the nerves which run from the spinal cord down the arm. This bundle of nerves, which merge at the side of the neck before branching out down to the arm, hand, and fingers, are essential for controlling the movement of the arm. Erb's palsy occurs most often during a difficult birth, when this bundle of nerves, known as the brachial plexus, is stretched or torn. There are several factors which may influence the development of Erb's palsy. A large baby, a baby born feet first (breech), or a baby which is born through prolonged labor is more likely to suffer from Erb's palsy. In these difficult birth scenarios, an infant's head may get pulled to the side, damaging the brachial plexus nerves.

Generally, it is the upper level of nerves which are damaged during birth. As a result, the infant will have full control of his or her fingers, but not of the arm as a whole. If the entire bundle of nerves is damaged, the condition is known as total brachial plexus palsy.

Treating Erb's Palsy

Infants suffering from Erb's palsy usually make partial to full recoveries by themselves over time. In otherwise healthy infants, recovery takes an average of three months. Depending on the severity of the nerve injury, however, recovery may be slower, incomplete, or impossible. There are four classes of severity when talking about nerve injury:

Neurapraxia - the mildest form of nerve injury, caused by stretching the nerves. Will typically heal on its own in a few months.

Neuroma ­- a stretch injury in which scar tissue develops on damaged nerves. This scar tissue, in turn, affects the nerves around it. Total recovery is rare, but partial recovery can be expected over time.

Rupture - nerves are actually torn apart and will not heal on their own. Will require surgery for any chance of recovery.

Avulsion - occurs when a nerve is torn away from the spinal cord. Extremely severe injury where total repair is impossible. Some motion in the arm may be enabled through a nerve tissue graft.


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