Brachial Plexus Injury

A brachial plexus injury occurs when the system of nerves known as the brachial plexus (extending from the neck down to the arm and hand) sustains damage. This damage may be sustained at any point, but in many cases, it occurs during the birthing process—typically when the baby’s shoulders become compressed while passing through the birth canal.

One to two of every 2,000 babies born each year in the United States suffers a brachial plexus injury, and many of these injuries are preventable. If you have questions about the cause of your child’s brachial plexus injury, contact an attorney at Burke & Eisner today.

Risk Factors for Brachial Plexus Injury

Difficult labor is perhaps the greatest risk factor for a brachial plexus injury, particularly in cases where:

  • The baby is in breech position or weighs more than 9 lbs
  • The labor is prolonged
  • The mother’s pelvis is small or abnormal in shape
  • Excessive force is used to deliver the baby

Any of these cases can increase the risk of damage to the nerves of the brachial plexus.

Nerve Damage: From Stretches to Tears

Injury to the brachial plexus can range from minor to severe in nature, depending on the type of nerve damage. The injury may cause limpness in the hand, wrist or arm, lack of muscle control, lack of feeling or even paralysis.

The types of nerve damage associated with a brachial plexus injury are as follows:

  • Neuropraxia is the most common brachial plexus injury and occurs when one of the nerves is stretched
  • Neuroma is a brachial plexus injury that occurs when a damaged nerve has healed but scar tissue is preventing it from conducting signals to the muscles
  • Rupture refers to a torn nerve, but the nerve has not been torn from the spine
  • Avulsion is the most serious brachial plexus injury and occurs when the nerve is torn from where it attaches to the spine

Though minor injuries tend to heal on their own with little or no treatment, more severe injuries may require extensive treatments such as surgery to repair. Some children may never fully recover from their brachial plexus injury, even with extensive treatment.

Two Types of Paralysis

There are generally two different forms of brachial plexus injuries that result in paralysis: Erb-Duchenne palsy (Erb’s palsy) and Dejerine-Klumpke palsy (Klumpke’s palsy). The difference between the two is the location of the paralysis. Upper brachial plexus paralysis is referred to as Erb’s palsy and lower brachial plexus paralysis is referred to as Klumpke’s palsy.

A number of medical centers across the country deal specifically in treating these two types of brachial plexus injuries. Surgery for these conditions is highly specialized and it’s always best to seek a treatment facility with expertise in injuries of the brachial plexus.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you notice lack of muscle control, limpness or any other unusual symptom in your infant’s arm or hand after birth, you should seek medical attention immediately for a diagnosis. The sooner your child is treated for a brachial plexus injury, the better the chances for a full recovery.

Diagnosis of a brachial plexus injury may involve various types of testing such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nerve conduction studies and/or a computerized tomography scan.

Minor nerve injuries may be left to heal on their own, or treatment may involve physical therapy. In cases where the brachial plexus injury is severe, treatment may include nerve graft, nerve transfer, muscle transfer or other type of surgery.

Questions about Medical Negligence?

Contact the attorneys at Burke & Eisner today if you think medical negligence is to blame for your child’s brachial plexus injury. We’ll evaluate your claim free of charge and advise you of your legal options.

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