Is Erb’s Palsy Permanent?

Published on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:35 pm in Birth Injury.

doctor checking on baby in nursery

Giving birth is a process that’s stressful enough—you have so many details to worry about before and after delivery, let alone the delivery itself. You’ll likely endure pain and discomfort, even if you do opt to use pain killers. But through it all, you’re probably trying to avoid thinking about birth injuries because you want to use your thoughts to think about a healthy baby.

Unfortunately, birth injuries are still a possibility and could happen to your baby. One of those birth injuries that is possible is Erb’s palsy. 1 in 1,000 babies suffer from a brachial plexus injury known as Erb’s palsy, which shows it’s fairly common and a real possibility for your baby’s delivery.

Let’s take a look at the prognosis for this injury, whether or not it’s permanent, what causes it, and treatment options so that you can feel fully informed and be prepared if this happens or has happened to your baby.

Prognosis of Erb’s Palsy

In short, no. In most cases, Erb’s palsy is not permanent. Most babies will fully recover from this birth injury with minimal or no long-term effects or symptoms.

According to an article from the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, up to 96 percent of babies with Erb’s palsy will have symptoms resolve completely in their first year of life. Those results jump to nearly 100 percent if babies start working on recovery within the first four weeks of life. This can be difficult though, because while the symptoms typically show immediately after birth, sometimes they can take up to six months to show.

Unfortunately, though, a small percent of babies will experience lasting effects. Here are some of the long-term side effects that a child could experience for the rest of their life if they do not fully or mostly heal from their brachial plexus injury from birth:

  • Weakness in the arm
  • Paralysis of the arm
  • Tightening of the arm muscles
  • Contractures of the arm
  • Shoulder dislocation
  • Loss of feeling and other sensation in the arm
  • Scoliosis

These lasting symptoms, even mild ones, could greatly impact a child’s life. From having trouble putting on tight sweaters to not being able to participate in sports, this could cause a child to have low self-esteem and lessen their quality of life.

That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant and know what can cause Erb’s palsy so you can identify it right away and get started on treatment as soon as possible. That way, your baby has the best chance at a full recovery from this birth injury.

What Causes Erb’s Palsy

Knowing the cause of Erb’s palsy can help you in your birthing process. While you might not be able to do anything to prevent this yourself, you can communicate your concerns to your doctor so that they understand your worries.

During birth, the baby can become stuck in certain positions since their body is squeezing through such a tight space. Typically, any odd position they get into is quickly resolved because they’re sliding through the birthing canal and out into the world. However, sometimes it is not resolved, and the position causes them harm. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), brachial plexus injuries happen in difficult deliveries, like a large baby or a breech baby.

That’s what happens in a brachial plexus birth injury known as Erb’s palsy—the baby has a difficult delivery and gets stuck with their neck stretched to one side. This stretching causes damage to the brachial plexus, which is a bundle of nerves in the shoulder. The brachial plexus nerves control the shoulder and arm and control all the way down to a person’s fingers.

Erb’s palsy more specifically affects the upper nerves of the brachial plexus. That’s why the baby will not be able to raise their arm above their shoulder but will still have function of their hand. If you suspect your baby suffered from a birth injury like this one, your doctor will evaluate them and could even order an X-ray or ultrasound to see if the nerve is damaged.

From there, you’ll need to start treatment right away to give your baby the best chance of a full recovery.

Treatment Options for Babies with Brachial Plexus Injuries

As mentioned above, most babies recover fully from their Erb’s palsy birth injury. When the injury is quickly identified and treatment starts within the first four weeks of life, a baby is most likely to make a full recovery within the year. If treatment starts after those four weeks, there is still a 96 percent recovery rate for these injuries and the child will have minimal or no lasting effects.

Here are some of the ways that you and your doctor can work to treat your baby’s upper brachial plexus birth injury so they have the highest chance of a full recovery:

  • Physical therapy
  • Movement of the arm
  • Stretching
  • Massage
  • Stimulation

Another treatment option is surgery. Although when surgery is needed, that is typically a situation where the child will have lifelong damages. After six months of minimal or no improvement from non-invasive treatments, that’s typically when a doctor will suggest surgical procedures to improve your child’s chances at recovery.

Surgery might sound bleak, but the procedure should improve function of the nerves and soft tissues of the arm. When your child suffers from Erb’s palsy, you’ll have a team around you fighting for the best outcome.

One of those team members will likely also be a birth injury lawyer. The injury shouldn’t have happened in the first place, which is why you could be fighting for justice while also working toward your child’s physical recovery.

Belsky & Horowitz, LLC Will Represent You

When your child has been injured during birth and it could have been avoided, you might want to take legal action. Our Erb’s palsy lawyer at Belsky & Horowitz, LLC is here to represent you after your baby suffers from a brachial plexus injury.

Our attorneys have experience with these claims and know exactly how to build you the strongest case possible to get your baby justice. Reach out to our office today so we can get started working for you.



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