Erb’s palsy refers to a type of injury that damages the upper brachial plexus in infants. The majority of these injuries happen during childbirth, usually because of a difficult labor. Sometimes it is the doctor pulling on the baby that causes the injury. As a result, the baby may suffer from a feeling of weakness for a few days or even as many months. They could also be paralyzed in the arm for the rest of their lives.
The prognosis of this injury has entirely to do with how much damage was done and where it occurred. As we just mentioned, sometimes the pain is minor and disappears on its own. This usually occurs when the damage was nothing more than an overstretching of the nerve. It simply needs time to heal itself.
However, if the nerve was stretched so far that scar tissue develops and actually hinders the brachial plexus from working correctly, the child will definitely experience problems using their arm. Sometimes, the nerve is actually torn or ripped from the spinal cord. This is when paralysis can occur. Seeing as how this type of injury definitely will not heal on its own (a nerve graft may actually be necessary), it is important to seek medical attention.
Treating Erb’s Palsy
Just like the symptoms of Erb’s palsy will depend on the injury, so too will the manner in which it is treated. The good news is that the majority of cases will need little more than physical therapy for the child to recover. As we mentioned, though, sometimes a more invasive approach is necessary.
In either case, though, so long as a physician is alerted in a timely manner, your child should be able to receive treatment that will completely repair the damage and eliminate the risk of a permanent disability.
When a nerve has simply been stretched past its limit, your child will most likely need physical therapy to restore its functionality. Usually, the doctor will show you the exercises they want you to do with your child and then give you a plan for carrying them out at home before another checkup.
Exercises will usually focus on fixing the child’s range of motion, stimulating the nerves and building their strength. In some situations more advanced techniques like occupational therapy or hydrotherapy may be necessary.
Sometimes, surgery is necessary. In such circumstances, physical therapy may still be recommended to help with recovery. At the very least, though, surgery will be required to repair Erb’s palsy injuries that involve the nerve being torn or it splitting off from the spinal cord. It is the only way to get this type of injury can completely heal and return complete functionality to the child.
Surgery may also be prescribed in cases where the child is not recovering fast enough from a mild injury with nothing but physical therapy.
Usually, there are only two types of surgery that get used to treat Erb’s palsy; nerve decompression and nerve grafts.
Long Term Effects of Erb’s Palsy
With proper treatment, many children will not even remember they ever had this injury. In some cases, the affected arm may shorten slightly. Sometimes the arm will not gain back full strength or be able to carry out circular movements in the shoulder or elbow.
Fortunately, in 90% of cases, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) reports that this injury will heal all on its own and the area will go back to working normally. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to be on the safe side and simply check with a doctor if you think your child is exhibiting worrisome symptoms.