Erb's Palsy

Definition

Erb’s palsy happens when a baby’s neck is stretched during labor and delivery. This can cause damage to the upper nerves of the neck and shoulder. The nerve damage can then cause certain muscles in the baby’s arm to be weak.

Vaginal Birth
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Causes

Erb’s palsy is usually caused by:

  • Long, difficult delivery
  • Delivery of a large baby
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Breech delivery

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of delivering a baby with Erb’s palsy include:

Symptoms

Often, Erb’s palsy is discovered after birth due to the typical signs and symptoms, such as:

Diagnosis

You may be asked about your baby's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Other tests may include:

Your baby may need images taken of bodily structures. This can be done with:

Your baby may need to have muscle and nerve activity recorded. This can be done with:

Treatment

Over time, the baby can recover movement. Feeling in the arm can also be recovered. In some cases, long-lasting damage can occur.

Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan, which may include:

  • Physical therapy—This can help keep your baby’s joints and muscles flexible and strong. You will take an active role in moving your baby’s shoulder, arm, and hand. Massage may also be an option.
  • Surgery—This may be recommended in cases where there is no improvement.

When your child is older, other treatments may be recommended, such as:

  • Muscle and tendon transfer surgery to improve function
  • Joint fusion surgery

Prevention

To help reduce your baby’s chance of Erb’s Palsy, take the following steps:

  • Have regular prenatal care visits.
  • Tell your doctor if you have had previous difficult deliveries.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 11/2014 -
  • Update Date: 05/07/2014 -
  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

    http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

  • Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://familydoctor.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Association

    http://www.coa-aco.org

  • Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

    http://www.sogc.org

  • Brachial plexopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 20, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2014.

  • Erb’s palsy. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/showdoc/40001379. Accessed January 12, 2014. Updated December 1, 2014.

  • Erb's palsy (brachial plexus birth injury). American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00077. Updated October 2014. Accessed December 1, 2014.