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Brachial Plexus Injuries

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The brachial plexus, a group of nerves that run from the spine to the first thoracic nerve roots, are located at sections C5 to C8 of the spinal column. Brachial plexus injuries in newborns cause damage to the nerves controlling the shoulders, arms, and hands. When those nerves are damaged, an individual may lose total or partial function of their upper arms or hand. At Arnold & Itkin, our Houston birth injury lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights of infants and their families. If your baby was harmed due to medical malpractice, call now.

We are here to help. Begin by filling out a free case evaluation today.

Symptoms & Causes of Erb’s Palsy in Newborns

Many brachial plexus injuries are caused by a stretching of the nerves discussed above. Brachial plexus injuries have a number of causes, but many of these injuries are sustained during childbirth. An injury may happen when the shoulders of the infant cannot readily pass through the birth canal. While minor injuries will heal on their own with rest and some therapy, other injuries might require surgical repair.

Signs an infant may have a brachial plexus injury include the following:

  • An arm bent at the elbow and held limply at the side of the body
  • The inability for the affected hand to grip things
  • Partial or full paralysis of the arm
  • Loss of sensory function of the affected upper arm
  • Loss of motor function of the affected upper arm
  • Numbness in the affected arm
  • Impairment of circulatory, muscular, and nervous development

One of the largest commons of a brachial plexus injury is the occurrence of a particularly difficult delivery. In these situations, the infant's head and neck can become hyper-extended when passing through the birth canal in a head-first delivery, resulting in the injury. Other potential causes of a brachial plexus injury include:

  • A breach (feet first) delivery
  • Above-average infant size
  • Infant’s shoulder lodged in the pelvic area
  • Underdeveloped neck muscles in infant
  • A prolonged second labor stage
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Maternal obesity
  • Delivery tools such as forceps or vacuums

If the birth was unusually difficult, doctors will likely conduct tests to discover damage that might have occurred.

The Moro Reflex Test

Doctors will typically use something called the "Moro reflex test" to uncover any abnormal muscle or nerve function. If a newborn suffered a traumatic birth, then doctors will likely monitor that child and conduct frequent Moro reflex tests until the child is three or four months old. If the stimulation does not produce any involuntary responses, then this could indicate spinal cord or brachial plexus damage. Traumatic births are common and can result from natural causes such as the health of the mother or the size and position of the child while it is in the womb. In other cases, a brachial plexus injury might be the result of a doctor’s negligence.

Brachial Plexus Injury FAQ

What Is the Brachial Plexus?

The brachial plexus is a nerve cluster in the spine that controls all information to the arm all the way down to the fingers. It governs mobility and sensation. When it is damaged during development, it can cause brachial plexus palsy. BPP can cause a child to never develop control over their hand or are or experience permanent lack of sensation.

What Causes Neonatal Brachial Plexus Palsy?

Damage to the brachial plexus often results from difficult births, particularly in cases where the baby is unable to pass through the birth canal without assistance. Breech birth (feet-first delivery), gestational diabetes, or a larger-than-average baby are all risk factors for brachial plexus damage.

How Can Brachial Plexus Damage Be a Result of Malpractice?

Many of the factors that contribute to brachial plexus palsy (e.g. gestational diabetes, maternal obesity) are known well before delivery day, which means obstetricians can and should take precautions accordingly. Lack of preparation for known risks is often the root underlying cause of medical malpractice. Even in cases involving breech birth, doctors have the tools and training to deliver babies without causing injury. Any injury that results from these situations is more often than not due to a provider’s failure to take proper care.

Pursuing Compensation with a Houston Brachial Plexus Injury Lawyer

If a doctor failed to take the best course of action during your labor and your child sustained a birth injury as a result, then you may be able to take legal action. While most brachial plexus injuries involve a stretching or tearing of the nerves, the most severe cases result in avulsions, which are complete separations of the nerve roots from the spinal cord. Brachial plexus could necessitate costly corrective surgeries, leaving parents to bear the expense. While many cases of brachial plexus injuries resolve themselves after approximately three months after birth, some severe cases will require nerve grafts. The severity of these injuries may not be clearly seen for a long period after birth.

To learn more about birth injuries and your right to seek compensation for your child's care, contact our brachial plexus injury attorneys. We're here to help.

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