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Birth Injury

Physical Therapy for the Treatment of Erb’s Palsy

Combating the Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy With Physical Therapy

Erb’s Palsy is a birth injury that is caused when the nerves in the baby’s neck and upper arm are damaged during childbirth. During birth, doctors sometimes attempt to deliver the baby by pulling or tugging on the baby’s head if the baby is moving too slowly through the birth canal or if the baby becomes stuck. Unfortunately, the nerves in the baby’s neck and upper arm are fragile and vulnerable to injury if they are stretched too far or torn. If these nerves – the brachial plexus nerves – are damaged, the child can sustain a serious and permanent injury to the affected arm, shoulder and/or hand. The child may have weakness, immobility, absent or decreased reflexes, and deformity of the arm or hand known as Erb’s Palsy or brachial plexus palsy.

Common Symptoms

Erb’s Palsy is relatively easy to diagnose, and most of the time, a child will begin to exhibit symptoms of the condition shortly after birth. Some of the most common signs of Erb’s Palsy include:

  • Weak reflexes or lack of reflexes in the affected area
  • Numbness or pain
  • Inability to grasp objects
  • Inwardly bent arms
  • Difficulty moving the arms or shoulder

If a parent notices any of the symptoms listed above, he or she should immediately alert a physician or nurse.

The Role of Physical Therapy

When a child is affected by Erb’s Palsy, physicians will often recommend physical therapy. This is one of the most common methods of treating Erb’s Palsy, and a trained physical therapist will work to help a child develop strength and mobility in the afflicted arm. Prior to therapy, the therapist will work with the parents to develop and discuss the plan of action. The child’s physical therapy routine may include the activities below.

  • Stretching exercises to increase range of motion;
  • Resistance exercises and strengthening exercises;
  • Sensory stimulation.

Another type of physical therapy, known as hydrotherapy, may be used during treatment of Erb’s Palsy. To prevent further pain, the child is placed into an anti-gravity environment (water), which allows them to perform therapy exercises on the affected area. Hydrotherapy has proven useful in treating a wide variety of injuries.

Legal Questions About Erb’s Palsy

If your child suffers from Erb’s Palsy and you have questions about whether the damage to the child’s nerves may have been caused by labor and delivery and may have been preventable, we welcome you to call Laura Brown, a Birth Injury Attorney at (214) 974-4121. Birth Injury Safety is a patient safety advocacy site to provide information about birth injuries and patient rights.