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What is Erb's Palsy?

Approximately one or two of every thousand babies born in New York and around the country will have a condition known as Erb's palsy. This is a serious form of brachial plexus palsy that could affect the shoulder and the arm of the child for life. It may be overcome with active therapy, but treatment will not be effective for all affected children.

The brachial plexus is a nerve network that controls all the nerves of the arm. It is located near the neck. Damage to this area may affect the ability to feel or move the shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers. There may be a resultant loss of range of motion, loss of sensitivity, inability to grasp firmly or impaired muscle development. Therapy, exercise and the consistent attention of the parents have been shown to be effective treatments for this form of debility.

One known cause of Erb's palsy is birth trauma. If the neck of an infant is stretched too far to the side during the process of delivery, then this form of palsy may result. This may occur during a difficult delivery or due to error on the part of attending medical staff.

The word palsy means "weakness." Palsy is a catchall term that describes several physical ailments that are grouped together by symptom, not by cause. Palsies may be caused by genetic issues, by exposure to environmental toxins, by birth injuries or a host of other unrelated issues. Anyone who suspects that their child has suffered a birth injury due to the negligence or gross misconduct of a medical professional, or that they themselves might have received such an injury, may wish to move toward the development of a malpractice suit seeking compensation for the harm that has been done to them or their family.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "Erb's Palsy (Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy)", October 29, 2014

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