A Nationwide Birth Injury Resource

Brachial Plexus Injury and Shoulder Dystocia

The brachial plexus is a series of nerves that connect the head and neck with the shoulder, arms and hands. Erb's palsy is a medical condition caused by an injury to this series of nerves, which can render the arm, elbow and hand immobile and useless. Klumpke's palsy is a related issue that affects only the hand.

Understanding shoulder dystocia

The word "dystocia" means slow or difficult labor or birth. Shoulder dystocia, then, refers to situations in which the infant's shoulders become lodged in the mother's pelvis. This usually happens because the baby is too big for the birth canal. It can also occur when the baby is born face first (turtle syndrome) or feet first (breech), either of which can put stress on the shoulder or neck.

If doctors deliver the baby carefully, shoulder dystocia can be resolved without causing significant injury to the baby. There are several medical maneuvers that can be used, including internal rotation, the McRoberts maneuver and the Zavanelli maneuver. When physicians try to pull the baby free and are not sufficiently careful, they can cause injuries like broken bones, facial injuries, and damage to the brachial plexus.

Symptoms of brachial plexus palsy

Some brachial plexus injuries heal over time, but many are permanent. Depending on the extent of the damage, symptoms can include:

  • Claw-like appearance of the affected hand
  • Pain in the injured area
  • Partial or total paralysis of the affected limb

Depending on the extent of damage, brachial plexus injuries may require massages or physical therapy to relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be needed. The child may be looking at a lifetime of having little or no use of one arm.

Families of children with Erb's palsy have legal options

Shoulder dystocia is a treatable complication, and brachial plexus injuries are usually preventable. That means there is a high likelihood that your child's injury was caused by medical malpractice. An attorney licensed in your state can break down your options in a free consultation.