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What is Erb’s palsy?

On Behalf of | Aug 22, 2023 | blog, Medical Malpractice

There are some medical disorders that may not be widespread but can significantly impact those affected. Erb’s palsy stands out among these. This condition affects the brachial plexus — a nerve network near the neck that sends signals to the shoulder, arm and hand. Damage to these nerves can lead to Erb’s palsy, resulting in arm weakness or even paralysis.

While this condition might sound intimidating, gaining insights into its causes, symptoms and treatment options can help you manage or support someone dealing with Erb’s palsy.

Causes of Erb’s palsy

Childbirth poses the primary risk for Erb’s palsy. 0.9 to 2.6 of 1000 babies are born with Erb’s palsy. The condition can develop if the delivering party pulls excessively on the baby’s head, especially when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone. Breech deliveries, where the baby emerges feet first, can also heighten this nerve damage risk.

Signs and symptoms

Erb’s palsy symptoms can range widely based on how bad the nerve damage is. Typical symptoms include:

  • Weakness in one arm
  • Limited mobility in the affected arm
  • Reduced grip strength in the hand of the affected arm
  • Holding the arm against the body with a bent elbow

This condition does not affect facial features or other body parts.

Diagnosis of Erb’s palsy

A pediatrician typically diagnoses Erb’s palsy with a physical examination shortly after birth. The doctor will look for signs of arm weakness and may request imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs to determine the damage. Electromyography, which measures muscle electrical activity, can also help assess nerve damage severity.

Treatment options

The treatment for Erb’s palsy hinges on its severity. For less severe cases, physical therapy and daily exercises can often improve the arm’s function. These exercises aim to maintain the arm’s range of motion and ward off joint stiffness. If there is no improvement over a certain period, some might consider surgical options. Surgeons can perform nerve grafts or nerve transfers to restore some arm function.

Proper diagnosis and treatment allow many with Erb’s palsy to lead fulfilling, active lives. Being aware and understanding this condition can better equip you to manage or support those who face it.