Written by attorney Christopher Michael Mellino

Erb’s Palsy: What Causes It, How It's Treated & Financial Recovery in a Malpractice Claim

Erb's palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury a child may suffer during a difficult labor and delivery. The condition is noted by loss of movement in the upper arm and trouble rotating the lower arm.

It’s estimated that one or two babies out of every 1,000 births will suffer an Erb's palsy injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. If caused by a negligent medical professional, a Cleveland, Ohio medical malpractice attorney can help pursue a malpractice claim for damages.

What causes it?

Erb's palsy is, at its simplest, a birth injury. It happens when the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves near the baby’s neck, is damaged during the labor and delivery process. This may happen if a doctor pulls excessively on the baby’s shoulders as it passes through the birth canal. It can also occur if the baby’s arms are raised during a breeched birth, or if the baby’s neck and head are pulled to the side when his or her shoulders leave the birth canal.

There are a few factors that may increase the likelihood of an Erb's palsy injury, including:

  • the baby is larger than average (usually more than 8 lb. 13 oz.);
  • the baby is breeched, or positioned feet first;
  • the labor is particularly long or difficult;
  • the pregnancy involves twins or multiples; and
  • vacuums or forceps are used during delivery.

Typically, babies who suffer this injury do not experience severe pain afterward, only minor discomfort, as well as the subsequent loss of movement.

What are some treatment options?

Many babies will recover from Erb's palsy, given time. In the event their injuries only involved stretched nerves, the damage is not usually permanent and, in most cases, will heal within a few months from the date of delivery. If the injuries involved torn nerves or nerves severed from the spinal cord, it will likely require further treatment to heal.

While many cases will heal on their own, it may be recommended that most infants who suffer from this birth injury receive physical therapy. This helps ensure their arm does not stiffen during the recovery process and that their joints are kept limber. Additionally, massage and motion therapy are tools often used to help infants with this condition recover. These help the child regain movement and keep the arm joint from contracting.

Surgery is also an option when more severe nerve damage is involved. This is usually not considered until the baby is at least three months old, and it is observed that strength and movement has not manifested in the arm. Though surgery may not fully restore the damaged nerves’ function, it may improve the overall outcome. Babies who undergo surgery may still experience some weakness or a limited range of motion afterward.

Is financial compensation available if the injury was caused by a doctor?

These injuries are, in some situations, the result of negligence or error by a medical professional during the labor and delivery process. When this is the case, families may consider filing a claim against the doctor in order to seek recovery of damages. A claim can recover compensation for medical bills incurred, pain, anguish and more, and it can be a great financial help when paying for physical therapy, surgery and other treatments.

In Cleveland, Ohio, a medical malpractice attorney such as at Mellino Robenalt LLC can help parents whose child has suffered a birth injury such as Erb's palsy pursue a claim.

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