The birth of a child is one of the most joyous occasions in any parents’ lives. It is also a sophisticated medical procedure which, if appropriate care is not given, can cause severe birth injury during labor and delivery. Birth injuries can be permanent, requiring long-term medical care.
A relatively common, and potentially severe birth injury is a Brachial Plexus injury or Erb’s Palsy. An injury to the brachial plexus is defined as “an injury to the network of nerves that sends signals from your spine to your shoulder, arm and hand” and occurs when the nerves are stretched as a result of pressing down forcefully on the shoulder while the head is pushed up and away from that shoulder. The birth injury may cause paralysis to the child’s shoulder, arm and hand, which may be permanent.
Brachial Plexus injury or Erb’s Palsy as a result of excessive pulling on the baby during birth may be the result of negligence, so it is important to contact a birth injury lawyer about your case.
Brachial Plexus can be caused at birth during labor and delivery in two ways:
1. Excessive pulling of the arm.
2. Pressure by raised shoulders during a breech delivery, when the baby enters the birth canal and is deliver feet first instead of headfirst.
Moreover, Brachial Plexus injury may also occur outside of the birth context. Specifically, it is commonly associated with contact sports involving children, where the pulling of the arm or shoulder frequently occurs.
There are four types of Brachial Plexus Injury:
1. Neuropraxia Brachial Plexus Injury
2. Avulsion Brachial Plexus Injury
3. Rupture Brachial Plexus Injury
4. Neuroma Brachial Plexus Injury
Neuropraxia Brachial Plexus Injury, also called Stretch Brachial Plexus Injury, is the most common and results when the nerves are stretched, but not torn. Rupture occurs when the nerve is torn, but not at the spine. Avulsion Brachial Plexus Injury is the most severe since the nerve is torn from the spine.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms of severe Brachial Plexus Injury:
• The ability to use fingers, but little to no control of shoulder and elbow muscles
• The ability to use your arm but not your fingers
• Complete lack of movement and feeling in your arm
• Severe pain
In newborns, diagnosing Brachial Plexus Injury involves observing the functional use of upper extremities, such as arms, head and neck. The University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurosurgery describes the examination as consisting of “a motor evaluation that scores both individual muscle groups (using the five-point British Research Council Grading System) and functional muscle group activities, including abduction, external rotation, and hand-to-head, hand-to-back and hand-to-mouth movements as well as sensory and reflex exams.” Follow up examinations are to take place every 3 months, and the results compared in order to assess progress.
Though most infants recover from Brachial Plexus Injury within 6 months, those who do not recover require surgery to repair the nerve. The surgery may be a nerve graft or nerve transfer, and may require an extended hospital stay. There may be permanent damage, which will require long term care.
If your child, or the child of a loved one suffers from Brachial Plexus injury caused at birth, contact an experienced birth injury lawyer as soon as possible. Time is of the essence, for the well being of the child and the success of the case.