Skip to Content

What New Parents Need to Know about Erb’s Palsy

Erb's palsy

Erb’s palsy, also known as Erb-Duchenne palsy effects babies who are injured during childbirth. It is an avoidable condition and is caused by medical malpractice.

Babies are born every day without incident, but there are also instances in which a baby is injured during birth because of the negligence of the doctor or other medical professionals involved.

One of the most common causes of injury during childbirth occurs when the doctor fails to use established birthing techniques and their negligence leads to nerve injuries that control the upper arm muscles. Most often, a complication can cause a baby’s shoulder to be trapped in the mother’s pelvic bone during birth, which can lead to shoulder dystocia. Certain circumstances can cause a higher risk for this occurrence, including births in which:

  • Babies are larger than expected
  • Mothers are smaller than average
  • Mothers are obese
  • Labor is prolonged
  • Mothers develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy

The medical community has established guidelines for how to handle these situations. In many cases, these guidelines will prevent injury to the baby. Unfortunately, some doctors disregard or are not educated concerning these safety precautions and standards and it results in a baby suffering a birth injury.

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy occurs when too much force is applied to a baby’s head, neck, or shoulder during delivery. It damages the nerves and can cause:

  • Avulsion or the complete severing of the nerve from the spinal cord
  • Rupture or tearing of the nerve somewhere other than the spinal cord
  • Neuroma or the inability of a healed nerve to transmit proper signals
  • Neuropraxia or the stretching or tearing of a nerve without tearing

Some children recover from Erb’s palsy, but treatment is expensive and time-consuming. Some experience lifelong complications or permanent disability and nerve damage. The most common complications linked to Erb’s palsy include:

  • Severe pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Unusable muscles
  • Stiff joints
  • Partial or total arm paralysis
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Lack of sensation in the arm or hand

What’s the Difference between Erb’s Palsy and Cerebral Palsy?

There are similarities between Erb’s palsy and cerebral palsy, another type of injury that sometimes occurs during birth.

Both are neurological disorders, but they produce different outcomes. For instance, Erb’s palsy affects only the arm and usually only one side of the body. Cerebral palsy, on the other hand, can affect one or more extremities or the entire body. Cerebral palsy might occur prior to birth while the baby is still in the womb or it can occur within the first five years of a child’s life.

Additionally, Erb’s palsy is damage to the peripheral nerves and affects only the muscles linked to these nerves, while cerebral palsy affects the brain. Erb’s palsy is not considered a brain injury, whereas cerebral palsy, as the name indicates, is a brain injury.

Doctors are Responsible for Preventing Birth Injuries

If the medical team fails to identify a baby’s risk for birth injuries that could cause Erb’s palsy they can be held legally responsible. Doctors and the medical staff on-hand for delivery are expected to respond in a timely and effective way to complications during the labor process and failing to do so can result in liability for any complications or injuries that occur. Parents who believe their child’s diagnosis of Erb’s palsy or any complications that might be linked to a birth injury should contact an attorney immediately.

Back to top