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Erb Palsy

(Erb-Duchenne Paralysis; Brachial Plexus Palsy)

Definition

Erb palsy weakness or paralysis in the arm that is usually noticed after birth.

Vaginal Birth

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Causes    TOP

Erb palsy is caused by stretching of the baby’s neck during labor and delivery. This can result in 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.

Stretching may be caused by:

Risk Factors    TOP

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

Symptoms    TOP

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

  • Inability of your baby to move an arm or shoulder
  • Arm is bent inward toward the body
  • Weak or absent reflexes in the arm
  • Loss of feeling in the arm

Diagnosis    TOP

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 imaging tests. This can be done with:

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

Treatment    TOP

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    TOP

To help reduce your baby’s chance of Erb palsy:

  • 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.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org

References:

Brachial plexopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900412/Brachial-plexopathy. Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Erb’s palsy. Patient UK website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 13, 2017. Updated November 9, 2017.
Erb's palsy (brachial plexus birth injury). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 2014. Accessed November 9, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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