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Erb's Palsy: causes and outlook

Brachial plexus injuries are a form of spinal trauma that can occur during childbirth. According to the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, these injuries account for about two of every 1000 births.

There are different types of BPIs based on which section of the spine sustains the most damage. Erb’s Palsy is the most common. It comes with a unique set of challenges that every new parent should be aware of.

Why does Erb’s Palsy occur?

The brachial plexus is responsible for sending nerve signals from the spine to various parts of the arm. During the delivery, it can become strained if the baby’s head stretches too far from the shoulder. This results in muscle paralysis in the hand and arm.

Typically, infants are most at risk of developing Erb’s Palsy during difficult childbirths, but poorly trained medical professionals can trigger the condition in certain circumstances. In a breach situation, or a case where the baby is larger, the threat of any kind of BPI increases.   

How effective is treatment?

Most infants respond well to physiotherapy and thorough observation, especially if a doctor diagnoses the problem quickly. If your baby is suffering from Erb’s Palsy, you may have to assist in the treatment plan by performing regular exercises with your child at home.

This added routine, plus increased doctor visits, can create strain in an already hectic adjustment in taking care of your new baby. Further, if he or she does not improve with physical therapy, you may have to consider surgery. This is a last resort, and the prognosis is not always positive.

Is permanent damage possible?

With early detection, most infants recover within a year. Those who go undiagnosed for too long may experience permanent muscle damage throughout the arm. In cases where surgery becomes necessary, there is a decreased chance of the child making a full recovery.

For many children, Erb’s Palsy is not a life-altering condition, but for others, the paralysis and nerve damage can follow them for the rest of their lives. Brachial plexus injuries frequently occur as a result of poor childbirth practices, making them preventable under the right circumstances. In fact, nearly half of BPIs happen during what should be routine deliveries.

Watch your child carefully and be on the lookout for signs of Erb’s Palsy, such as reduced motor function and movement in one arm. A prompt diagnosis can make a huge difference.

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