Dr. Wilhelm Erb first described the condition that bears his name. Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus palsy which is a birth injury caused when a baby’s neck is severely stretched during a difficult delivery during childbirth.
Around .2% of all births result in some degree of this injury. Nerves, which are located in the spine, neck and shoulder, become injured and result in a partial or complete paralysis in the upper arm. (Injuries may also impact the lower arm and hands but are not known as Erb’s Palsy.)
In some cases, the symptoms (numbness, paralysis, rotated arm, ineffective arm movement) disappear or mitigate after a year or two. In other cases, surgery and intensive physical therapy is required to recover the functionality of the upper arm. Depending on how severe the injury is, a doctor will prescribe the best course of action. There are four kinds of nerve damage that can occur:
- Neurapraxis which is a stretch injury that doesn’t tear the nerve, but is similar to a stinger that adults feel when they have been injured during sports. In an infant, these injuries heal within several months.
- A Neuroma results from damaged nerves that form scar tissue and continue to press on the rest of the healthy nerve. Partial recovery is usually experienced
- When a nerve is torn, a Rupture occurs and this type of injury won’t heal by itself.
- An Avulsion is a very serious kind of nerve injury where the nerve becomes completely severed from the spinal cord. Treatment options are few but a a nerve graft is a possibility to restore at least some functionality to the arm.
A baby may exhibit weakness in one arm, numbness in one arm or paralysis in the arm. These are indications that the baby may have Erb’s Palsy and this can be diagnosed by a pediatrician after birth.
Know that it might take two years to fully recover from a brachial plexus injury.
For more information, check out: aaos.org