The brachial plexus is a group of nerve fibers that attach to the spine structure in your neck. These nerve fibers connect to your arms and hands. Over-stretching, compressing or tearing these fibers can lead to pain, loss of function and even paralysis.
While people of any age can suffer brachial plexus injuries, it is most commonly experienced by infants during the birthing process. In fact, it occurs in about two to five out of every 1000 births each year and is one of the most common forms of birth injuries.
Causes of brachial plexus injuries in newborns
The most common cause of a brachial plexus injury is from using excessive force and stretching the baby’s body during the labor or delivery process. Doctors often use birth-assistance tools such as forceps and vacuum extraction tools during difficult births. Used improperly or with too much force, these devices can damage the nerves.
Even if the doctor doesn’t use birth-assistance tools, a brachial plexus injury can happen if he uses too much pressure or force on the baby during the delivery. Other potential causes of brachial plexus injuries include:
- Breech delivery
- A long delivery process
- Maternal diabetes
- An infant whose shoulders are stuck in the mother’s pelvic area
- Underdeveloped neck muscles
The different types of brachial plexus injuries
Not only are there different causes of brachial plexus injuries, there are also different types:
- Neurapraxia is the most common form and the least damaging. In these cases, the nerve fibers experience minor strains or tears, which usually clear up within a few months. The injury affects the protective nerve lining, but not the nerves themselves.
- Erb’s Palsy occurs when the nerves to the upper arm are damaged. Some of the risks with this injury include paralysis, loss of sensory or motor function in the affected arm, decreased grip or numbness.
- Klumpke’s Palsy affects the nerves in the lower part of the arm. This can result in loss of feeling or numbness in the arm, or cause a hand to have a claw-like appearance.
The treatment for a brachial plexus injury depends on the specific type of injury and its severity. While some injuries may heal on their own, others may require medication, physical therapy and, sometimes, surgery. In any case, the condition can be quite painful, especially for a newborn. Unfortunately, some babies do not heal completely and may have to contend with the condition for life.
Not every birth injury nor every brachial plexus injury is the result of negligence or malpractice by a doctor. However, there may be many instances when the injury could have been prevented.
If your child was injured during birth, contact an understanding and skilled birth injury attorney. Not only may your family be entitled to medical treatment and on-going care, you may be entitled to compensation for pain, suffering and loss of use. A lawyer from Hilley & Frieder, P.C., will explain your options and help you with your recovery from this tragedy.