What is Erb’s Palsy?

By Jason Brady

mother in hospital holding and looking down on her baby

Birth injuries, although rare do occur and vary in their severity. Here, medical negligence solicitors Blackwater Law discuss Erb’s Palsy.

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy occurs when a baby sustains serious nerve damage during birth. When the baby’s shoulders become stuck following the emergence of their head, improper application of force by medical staff can result in bruising, tearing or twisting of the brachial plexus. This network of 5 key nerves connects the neck to the arms and is responsible for facilitating movement and feeling therein. When any of the nerves within it are damaged, signals travelling to and from the brain are impaired, resulting in impairment or loss of movement and feeling.

Approximately one in a thousand babies are born with this condition, which can have a lifelong impact on the individual and their family. Although it can occur after birth, the condition frequently occurs during delivery when the baby’s neck is stretched unnaturally as the head and shoulders pass through the birth canal.

In instances where this occurs, it may be possible to pursue Erb’s palsy claim should this have been the result of negligent care. A factor that increases the risk of Erb’s palsy is if the baby is breech, this is because the arms still need to be brought over the baby’s head in order to allow them to fit through the birth canal.  If they are pulled out by their feet this can lead to extensive stretching and increase the possibility of an injury occurring.

What causes Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy generally occurs as a result of difficult labour but certain risk factors include:

  • The large size of the baby/high birth weight
  • The use of forceps or ventouse during the delivery
  • Extended labour in the later stages
  • If the baby is in the breech position

In instances where it can be proven that Erb’s Palsy has directly resulted from negligence on the part of the midwife or hospital, it may be appropriate to pursue an Erb’s palsy claim as part of a wider birth injury claim.

Get expert advice

Call today and speak to Zoe Diss, specialist medical negligence solicitor. Find out if you can claim compensation.

CALL 0800 083 5500

Does my child have Erb’s Palsy?

A paediatrician or midwife will usually assess your child post-birth. Where abnormalities in arm function are observed, X-rays will likely be conducted and your child may subsequently be referred for a physiotherapy assessment – this should occur within 10 working days of referral.

There are a number of signs you can look for to determine if your child is suffering from Erb’s Palsy:

  • They are unable to bend their elbow, or their hand is stuck in a “waiter’s tip” position; permanently fixed at a backward angle.
  • The affected arm may be limp.
  • Weakness, limpness or total paralysis of the hand.
  • Your child may exhibit symptoms of an associated condition known as Horner’s syndrome; where an eyelid may droop and the pupil on the child’s weaker side is slightly reduced in size.
  • Another associated condition known as Torticollis may occur, when the baby faces away from a weakened arm and struggles to remain facing forward for any significant period of time.
  • Your child has a reduced ability to grip with the hand of the affected arm.

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