Erb’s palsy, also called brachial plexus palsy, is characterized by nerve damage to the group of nerves that controls the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers. This type of birth injury often occurs when the infant’s shoulders cannot pass through the birth canal during delivery. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Erb’s palsy affects about 0.1% to 0.2% of newborns in the United States. If your newborn has developed this condition at birth, understand what your family should expect as he or she recovers from this injury. 

Symptoms of Erb’s palsy 

In general, this condition causes weakness, numbness and loss of mobility in the affected shoulder and arm. The extent of these symptoms varies depending on the extent of injury to the nerve. 

Treatment for Erb’s palsy 

With physical therapy and treatment, many infants regain mobility and strength in the shoulder and arm after this type of birth injury. Neuropraxia, the mildest form of nerve injury, usually heals on its own within a few months. Stretched nerve tissue, known as a neuroma, may partially repair without medical intervention. For mild to moderate injuries, your child’s doctor will likely recommend a watchful waiting approach. This will include daily physical therapy exercises to help retain range of motion in the affected joints. 

Torn nerves require surgical repair to regain function. Nerves that become severed from the spinal cord must be replaced with grafted nerves and the child may not regain mobility in the affected area. After this type of surgery, which uses minuscule instruments and microscopes to limit the size of incisions, it can take about two years for the repaired or grafted nerves to function. Sometimes, the child will experience lifelong weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand. 

When Erb’s palsy results from a birth injury, the family may have a valid medical malpractice claim. This type of lawsuit covers the cost of surgery, therapy and treatment for the aftermath of this condition.