Erb’s Palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury associated with muscle weakness in the arms and shoulders.
Although it most commonly takes place in newborns during a difficult birth, the injury can also occur in children, adolescents and adults. If not treated with proper physical therapy and/or surgery, Erb’s Palsy can result in a permanently diminished motion of the shoulders and arms, or in one arm growing shorter than the other.
What Causes Erb’s Palsy?
Newborns are at risk of Erb’s Palsy, the most common type of brachial plexus injury, during birth. It is usually caused by the head and neck being pulled to the side as the shoulders pass through the birth canal. The possibility of Erb’s Palsy can be increased during prolonged deliveries, a breech birth, or when a baby is improperly rushed through the birth canal. Larger babies are also at a greater risk of developing an Erb’s Palsy injury.
For children, adolescents and adults, Erb’s Palsy can occur after a traumatic accident or injury. The injury will result from downward force on the shoulder and upper arm, damaging the network of nerves that make up the brachial plexus.
Erb’s Palsy is characterized by muscle weakness. Specific symptoms may include complete or partial paralysis of the arm, diminished grip strength and/or motion of the arm, and numbness. In the most severe cases, the injury will result in the nerves being completely ruptured from the spinal cord, requiring surgery for repair. However, many cases or Erb’s Palsy can be alleviated through physical therapy or—in the mildest of cases—heal on their own after a few months.
Erb’s Palsy is commonly treated through physical therapy and/or surgery. The Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Clinic at Kennedy Krieger Institute offers patients a customized treatment and therapy plan aimed at optimizing nerve and functional recovery. Patients will receive individual prognosis assessments based on the severity of their injury. As part of this process, patients may receive surgical and non-surgical treatment options.
Non-surgical Treatment Options: Occupational therapy and physical medicine are always part of the recovery process. Kennedy Krieger not only offers traditional therapies, but also the opportunity to receive intensive activity-based restorative therapies (ABRT) to maximize the recovery and neurodevelopmental processes. This can be a catalyst for the development of adequate and efficient motor patterns.
Surgical Treatment Options: The degree of functional impairment and potential for recovery depends on the mechanism, type and complexity, and time removed from the injury. The most important decision your surgeons will make is determining if and when surgical intervention should occur.