What is Erb’s Palsy? | Charles Thronson

What is Erb’s Palsy?

July 15, 2016

Unlike Cerebral Palsy, Erb’s Palsy is not related to a brain injury or other nervous system conditions. It is caused by an injury to a group of nerves surrounding the shoulder called the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus are nerves that are responsible for sensation and motion in the hand, fingers and arm. Erb’s Palsy is characterized by either weakness or paralysis of the upper arm that affects the rotation of the lower arm below the affected brachial nerves.

If you have an infant diagnosed with Erb’s palsy, there may have been some negligence that occurred during delivery, and you may be entitled to compensation. You should consult with an experienced personal injury counsel that specializes in birth injuries such as Charles H. Thronson, Attorney at Law in Utah.

Causes of Erb’s Palsy

Data reveals that one or two babies for every one thousand births will suffer an injury to the brachial nerves. This may occur if the baby’s neck and head are pulled to the side when the shoulders exit the birth canal. If a medical professional pulls excessively on the shoulders as the baby comes out head first, it may lead to a brachial nerve injury. This may also occur during a breech birth where the baby comes out feet first, and the infant may be injured from excess pressure because the arms are usually raised.

Another possible cause of brachial nerve injury that leads to Erb’s Palsy is shoulder dystocia, which occurs with larger than average infants. When shoulder dystocia occurs, the baby’s head is delivered normally, but one of the baby’s shoulders becomes stuck under the mother’s pelvic bones. This is life threatening to both the mother and the infant, and it is most likely to injure the brachial plexus.

Common risk factors for shoulder dystocia include mothers with gestational diabetes or who are short. Pelvic abnormalities may also cause shoulder dystocia, and prolonged labor increases the risks.

Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy

Symptoms are almost immediately apparent in infants after delivery, but sometimes the injury may not be diagnosed immediately. One symptom is the lack of a Moro reflex, which is a reflex in healthy infants that occurs when they are startled. They will throw out their arms to the side with palms facing up and thumbs flexed if startled. Another symptom is if the infant holds the affected arm tightly against the body with the elbow flexed. The infant may also show little to no spontaneous movement of the injured arm, and a lack of grip strength. Long-term symptoms may include a smaller arm because it may develop more slowly that the unaffected arm.


There are certain improved delivery techniques that are now available to try to prevent many brachial plexus injuries. If there are certain risk factors available, such as a larger than average infants or gestational diabetes, medical staff should be prepared to respond according to accepted medical standards. Generally, the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor should be avoided if possible because of the increased risk of injury with the use of these instruments.

Erb’s palsy that results from mere stretching of the brachial plexus will heal normally within six to twelve months after delivery. Stretching does not usually result in permanent damage. Minor physical therapy may be the only treatment for minor stretch injuries in order to facilitate arm mobility. However, there are instances in which the nerves are torn, and these serious injuries will never completely heal on their own without surgical intervention. It may even be the case that the nerve is completely torn apart from the spinal cord, which may result in permanent paralysis or significant disabling impairments. One potential treatment is a tendon transplant, which will not take place until the infant is a few months old. Even with such treatment, the serious brachial plexus injury will heal very slowly and may take a few years to recover completely. There may be permanent effects such as weakness or limited range of motion.

If you have a child that suffered a brachial plexus injury during delivery and may be showing symptoms of Erb’s Palsy, you may be able to obtain compensation especially if your child has begun showing long-term impairment as a result. Charles H. Thronson, Attorney at Law, is a seasoned advocate in Utah with years of experience in pursuing claims against medical professionals for birth injuries. Do not hesitate to contact our firm today for an initial consultation by calling (800) 532-0021 or by completing our online form.

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