Childbirth can result in a number of injuries to the newborn, some minor and some severe. Among them is what is known as a brachial plexus injury. This generic term consists of a number of conditions that affect the network of nerves responsible for carrying neuroelectric signals from the top of the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand on either side of the body. The majority of these injuries are caused by trauma that occurs during or just before delivery. Due to the number of different types of brachial plexus injuries, there is also a wide range of symptoms that go along with them.
Minor Brachial Plexus Injury Symptoms
The severity of this type of injury depends on where it happened and what caused it. On the mild end, the baby may suffer a reduction of movements that can include an entire range of motion, though the effects will disappear within a few months or even less. While either arm can be affected, only one can be injured.
Minor brachial plexus injuries generally involve the compression or stretching of the nerves. Sometimes the injury is so mild that it practically goes unnoticed. While this usually occurs after a difficult labor, it can happen later on in life from playing sports or taking on other types of strenuous physical activity.
This type of injury, called neuropraxia, is the most common and results from some kind of overexertion. Typically, minor symptoms include:
- A burning sensation that comes on suddenly and is akin to an electric shock traveling down the nerves of the arm.
- A temporary loss of sensitivity or a sudden weakness in the affected limb.
While neuropraxia is the most common and least severe form of brachial plexus injuries, there are others that come with more serious symptoms. In total, there are five types of injuries that can damage these nerves:
- Avulsion involves the complete disconnection of a nerve from the spine.
- Rupture refers to a partial tear that happens away from the spine.
- Axonotmesis disrupts the nerve’s axons.
- Neurotmesis is very serious as it means the nerve has actually been severed in two.
- Neuroma occurs when a tumor or some other kind of growth shows up on the nerve tissue keeping it from regenerating fully.
Like we mentioned earlier, the specifics of each injury will depend on what caused it, where it happened and how much nerve damage occurred. That being said, most serious brachial plexus injuries will have the following symptoms;
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of feeling in the limb or part of it
- Intense pain
- Horner’s syndrome (which actually affects the eyes either through a constriction of the pupil or a drooping of the eyelid)
- Erb’s palsy
- Muscle paralysis (total or partial) in the shoulder or upper arm
- Klumpke’s palsy
Unfortunately, some infants may experience a severe case of brachial plexus injury where they develop avulsion. The area where the nerve has been damaged will give off a pain that can feel like a burning sensation or a crushing pressure.
Even in minor cases, infants should always be taken to medical professionals to evaluate the injury. If the injury does not heal on its own, something as simple as physical therapy may be used to repair the damage. Other times, medication or neurosurgery will be necessary. However, in severe instances, the prognosis is usually poor and an infant will ever reestablish full use of their limb.
Fortunately, most physicians are adept at recognizing the risk of brachial plexus injuries early on and keeping the risks low. However, it is important to understand the symptoms of these injuries so you can keep an eye on your infant and ensure they receive medical attention if necessary.