Erb’s palsy – also referred to as obstetric brachial plexus palsy – is a condition resulting from damage to a baby’s brachial plexus during childbirth. It affects movement and feeling in the arm.

The brachial plexus is a complex network of nerves that lies in the shoulder area. Their roots emerge from the spinal cord at the neck before fusing at the collarbone. They then divide up and distribute among the muscles of the arm to control the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand.

Injury to the brachial plexus during childbirth often occurs with shoulder dystocia. This is when the baby’s head has been delivered but its shoulders are stuck in the uterus against the mother’s pelvic bone. If the baby’s head is excessively pulled at an angle in an attempt to release the shoulders, the nerves in the brachial plexus may stretch or tear.

Depending on which nerves in the brachial plexus are damaged – and to what degree – symptoms can range from weakness or paralysis of specific muscles (such as the muscles that lift or rotate the arm) to complete paralysis of the shoulder, arm and hand.

If the injury is mild, it’s possible for the nerves to repair themselves and for the condition to get better on its own within a few months. In fact, around 70-80 per cent of all babies diagnosed with Erb’s palsy will regain good use of their affected arm.

If the nerves are torn, or the nerve trunk is severed from the spinal cord, surgery is required for any movement and feeling in the arm to be recovered. In these cases, the injury may be permanent.

A classic sign of Erb’s palsy is an arm hanging limp by the child’s side, turned in and with the hand bent back and palm facing up, often referred to as the ‘waiter’s tip’ position.

This site is designed to offer more information about Erb’s palsy, including:

As a leading firm of medical negligence solicitors in England and Wales, widely accredited as experts by the Law Society and other professional bodies, we can offer advice on pursuing a claim if you believe your or your baby’s Erb’s palsy was the result of medical negligence.

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