A brachial plexus injury is one of the more common forms of birth injury caused by medical malpractice or negligence, according to a study published in the Journal of Perinatology. This can lead to many long-term problems, including Erb’s palsy or weakness in the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Treatments for brachial plexus injuries can be expensive, but Sokolove Law may be able to help. Get a free case review to see if your child’s injury may have been caused by a medical error.
What Is a Brachial Plexus Injury at Birth?
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that runs from the spinal cord through the collarbone (or clavicle) into the neck and shoulders and down the arms, fingers, and hands. These nerves are responsible for providing feeling and movement to the extremities of the upper body, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
During difficult deliveries, there are many ways the brachial plexus nerves can be stretched or torn, potentially causing injury to the baby.
Brachial Plexus Injury Causes at Birth
Potential causes of brachial plexus injuries at birth include:
- Shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulders can’t fit through the birth canal) poses the greatest risk for brachial plexus birth injuries, according to a study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery
- Delivering a large baby with a higher birth weight than normal poses the second-greatest risk for brachial plexus injuries at birth, according to the study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery
- Medical instruments like forceps or vacuum extractors used to pull the baby from the birth canal, which can stretch the baby’s neck to the side and damage the brachial plexus nerves
- Breech deliveries (when the baby’s feet or bottom come out first)
In many of these cases, the brachial plexus birth injury could have been prevented if the doctor, obstetrician, or medical professional had ordered a cesarean or C-section instead.
If your child suffered a brachial plexus injury at birth, get in touch with Sokolove Law as soon as possible. If medical negligence caused your child’s injury, you may be eligible for financial compensation that can help cover the costs of your child’s treatment and care.
Unsure if your child suffered a brachial plexus birth injury? We have registered nurses on staff with decades of labor and delivery experience who can listen to your story and help you understand what may have happened.
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Signs and Symptoms of Brachial Plexus Injury
Brachial plexus injuries symptoms depend on how severe the birth injury is and where it occurs. The most severe injuries and symptoms stem from rupturing or tearing the injured nerves — especially if the nerves are completely separated from the spinal cord.
According to the AAOS, symptoms of brachial plexus injury in infants may include:
- An inability to move the arm, shoulder, or hand
- Numbness or burning sensation in the affected area
- Weakness in the arm, shoulder, or hand
- Constant pain in severe cases
Types of Brachial Plexus Injuries
There are many different types of brachial plexus injuries, depending on how the brachial plexus is damaged. In some cases, the brachial plexus nerves may only be stretched, while, in others, the nerves may be completely separated from the spinal cord.
Common types of brachial plexus injuries include:
- Brachial plexus palsy
- Erb’s palsy
- Total plexus involvement
- Klumpke’s palsy
- Horner’s syndrome
Erb’s Palsy and Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy
Brachial plexus palsy occurs when the brachial plexus nerves are damaged, and the brain can no longer send signals to the arm muscles, which can affect your baby’s ability to use some or all of their arm.
Erb’s palsy, however, occurs when the upper nerves of the brachial plexus are stretched, which mostly affects the baby’s shoulder and elbow muscles, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Children with Erb’s palsy will sometimes be able to move their fingers but not their shoulders.
Other Erb’s palsy symptoms include:
- Partial or complete paralysis in one arm
- Weakness or numbness in the affected area
- Limited range of motion in the affected arm
A more severe type of brachial plexus palsy involves both the lower and upper brachial plexus nerves and is known as total plexus palsy or involvement.
Total Plexus Involvement
When brachial plexus palsy affects your baby’s arm, hand, and wrist muscles, the condition is known as total plexus palsy or involvement, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Because all of the brachial plexus nerves are affected, total plexus involvement usually results in a complete loss of movement in the hand, arm and shoulder.
Neurapraxia is a brachial plexus injury that stretches the nerves significantly — but doesn’t damage or tear them. In some cases, neurapraxia will heal on its own without treatment, though recovery can take several weeks or months, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Neurapraxia is the most common form of brachial plexus nerve injury, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
A neuroma is a brachial plexus injury that stretches and damages some of the nerve fibers. As it heals, scar tissue can form and press on the surrounding healthy nerves, causing pain and discomfort. In cases of neuromas, only partial recovery is usually possible, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
A rupture is a more severe brachial plexus injury that occurs when the nerve itself is torn apart — but not where it attaches to the spine. This type of injury won’t be able to heal on its own and may require surgical treatment, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
An avulsion is an extremely severe form of brachial plexus injury that occurs when the nerve root is separated from the spinal cord. Avulsions are less common, making up about 10-20% of brachial plexus injury cases, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Though the injury happens at the spinal cord, avulsions can also affect the nerve leading to the diaphragm, which can cause breathing difficulties as well.
Unfortunately, an avulsion can’t be fixed through surgery. The damaged tissue may need to be surgically replaced with a nerve transfer.
Also known as Klumpke’s paralysis, Klumpke’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus palsy that results from an injury to the area of the brachial plexus that includes nerves in the neck and shoulder. Medical negligence or malpractice is a common cause of Klumpke’s palsy in infants.
Klumpke’s palsy will typically affect the muscles in the hand, forearm and wrist. Pain, numbness and weakness are the most prevalent symptoms, according to Baptist Health.
Horner’s syndrome affects the nerves in the brain, face, and eye. This condition often results in a smaller pupil and drooping eyelid in the affected eye.
Although Horner’s syndrome can’t be treated, according to the Mayo Clinic, nerve function may eventually return if the underlying cause can be corrected.
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Brachial Plexus Injury Treatment Options
Depending on the severity of the injury, your child may be able to recover from a brachial plexus injury. Even if brachial plexus surgery is needed, the success rate can be as high as 95%.
Brachial plexus injuries can often improve from the following treatment options:
- Physical therapy can help the affected limbs work better through increased flexibility and range of motion
- Occupational therapy can help a child with muscle weakness perform everyday tasks, like getting dressed
- Orthopedic or nerve surgery may be needed for more severe brachial plexus injuries
Surgical Options for Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries
According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, common surgical procedures to treat more severe brachial plexus birth injuries include:
- Muscle transfers and tendon transfers: A muscle or tendon is moved from another part of the body to help a child regain arm function
- Neurolysis: Scar tissue is removed from a nerve to help it work the way it should
- Nerve grafts: A surgeon takes nerve fibers from another area of the body to help damaged nerves heal
Get Legal Help for Brachial Plexus Palsy
Treatments for a brachial plexus injury can be costly — but we may be able to help. If your child suffered harm due to medical negligence or malpractice, you may be eligible for financial compensation.
For decades, experienced birth injury attorneys working with Sokolove Law have helped families with children hurt by preventable injuries during birth seek justice and compensation. We’ve recovered over $717 Million on behalf of these families.
Not only do we have the resources to represent families in these cases, we have a nationwide network of attorneys who have a deep understanding of this area of the law. We also have a team of registered nurses on staff who may be able to give you a better idea of whether or not medical mistakes are to blame for your child’s condition.
Brachial Plexus Injury at Birth FAQs
How do I know if my baby has brachial plexus injury?
The symptoms of a brachial plexus injury can vary greatly. However, in many cases, a child will have numbness, weakness, or paralysis in the affected area, usually the hand, arm, and/or shoulder.
The experienced and compassionate registered nurses with Sokolove Law have decades of labor and delivery experience and can help you determine if something may have happened to your child. Contact us today to learn more.
What causes brachial plexus palsy in newborns?
When a baby is born, the brachial plexus nerves in the shoulders and upper arms are extremely vulnerable. A brachial plexus injury can occur when the nerves are stretched or torn during the birthing process, particularly during difficult deliveries, when a baby is pulled from the birth canal.
In some instances, a doctor may improperly use a medical device like forceps or vacuum extractors that are designed to remove a baby from the birth canal. Unfortunately, these instruments can stretch the baby’s shoulders or neck to such extent that it causes brachial plexus nerve damage.
What are risk factors for neonatal brachial plexus palsy?
According to MedLine Plus, some of the factors that increase the risk for neonatal brachial plexus palsy include:
- Breech deliveries (when the baby presents bottom first during birth)
- A baby who is larger than average
- A doctor having a difficult time extracting the baby’s shoulder from the birth canal after the head has emerged
- Shoulder dystocia
What are the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury?
Babies with a brachial plexus injury may experience the following:
- Paralysis in the affected arm
- Weakness of the muscles
- Severe pain in some instances
What are my legal options for neonatal brachial plexus palsy?
If a preventable medical error caused your child’s birth injury, you may be eligible for compensation from a brachial plexus birth injury lawsuit. Get in touch with us today to learn more about your legal options and see if you may have a case.
What is Erb’s palsy in infants?
Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury that affects the nerves in the neck and shoulder. It will typically occur when these areas of the baby’s body are significantly stretched during delivery.
In some cases, a doctor can cause this type of injury by a medical error or mistake when trying to extract the child from the mother’s birth canal. Improperly using a vacuum extractor or forceps can result in the kind of nerve damage associated with Erb’s palsy.