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Is Erb’s Palsy Permanent?

By Dansker & Aspromonte

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July 20, 2024

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Erb’s palsy is a relatively common condition in newborns. Statistics vary, but most show that Erb’s palsy occurs in at least 1 in 1,000 live births in the United States. The seriousness of the condition varies: some cases resolve fairly quickly, while others cause lifelong impairment. Although the severity of the injury and duration of the symptoms depends partly on the seriousness of the original injury, how the injury is treated can make a considerable difference in the long-term outcome.

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus palsy. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that runs between the spinal cord and the arm. This network of nerves controls the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. These nerves may be injured during the birth process, when the infant’s neck is bent too far, the arm is pulled on, or the shoulder catches during delivery, causing strain or requiring pulling to free the child and continue the delivery process.

Erb’s palsy is also sometimes referred to by other names, including:

  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Brachial plexus birth palsy
  • Erb – Duchenne palsy

If the nerves are simply “shocked,” the injury typically recovers with time.  While every case is different, parents of a child whose brachial plexus suffered a shock during delivery can generally expect the infant to recover in a few months. However, if the nerves are stretched or torn, the prognosis may be less encouraging.

Stretched nerves may develop scar tissue, meaning that recovery may be incomplete. Tears may result in serious long-term injury, including:

  • Pain
  • Inability to move arm or shoulder
  • Lack of feeling in the hand or arm
  • Weak or non-existent reflexes
  • Arm hanging loose

If untreated, the condition can also result in muscle atrophy.

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Who is Responsible for Erb’s Palsy?

Often, a brachial plexus injury sustained during birth is the result of medical malpractice. The circumstances leading to the injury may range from a physician failing to anticipate issues that arise during the birth to delivery-room personnel applying too much force when adjusting or pulling on the infant. Just as significantly, medical staff often fail to diagnose Erb’s palsy in a timely manner, or do not disclose the injury to parents.

As experienced New York City birth injury lawyers, we know that parents are often in a difficult situation when a child has been injured during the delivery process. It can be difficult for parents to identify a brachial plexus injury, since a newborn isn’t able to communicate that he or she is in pain and hasn’t yet established any norms that will allow parents to readily recognize that something is wrong.

Maximizing Your Child’s Chances for Recovery from Erb’s Palsy

Early treatment is the best weapon against long-term pain and limitations. Thus, it is important that both medical professionals and parents be alert to the signs and symptoms of brachial plexus injury and follow up promptly. Some signs parents may recognize include:

  • The child not moving one arm
  • The arm resting in an odd position, such as turned inward
  • Crying when one arm or shoulder is touched or moved
  • Failure to respond to touch on one hand or arm

Early intervention can mean the difference between a slight disability and long-term paralysis of the arm or other serious long-term effects. If you have reason to believe that your child may be suffering from a brachial plexus injury, call it to the doctor’s attention as soon as possible. If the physician who delivered the child or another in the same practice downplays the symptoms, but you believe that your child has been injured, do not hesitate to seek an outside opinion.

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Fully Protecting Your Child May Mean Seeking Legal Representation

If your child has suffered a serious brachial plexus injury, or the injury has been aggravated by failure to diagnose or properly treat Erb’s palsy, you may be entitled to compensation that will allow your child to receive the medical care, rehabilitation, and other accommodations he or she needs. Experienced New York Erb’s palsy lawyers can be the best source of information about your rights and options.

Give yourself and your child the benefit of an experienced advocate. Schedule a free consultation with a New York personal injury lawyer right now. Just fill out the form at the top of this page or call (212) 540-2981 right now.

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