Most newborns who sustained brachial plexus injuries during birth will recover on their own. The process is typically slow, as the nerves could take months or years to totally recover. As an injured infant grows, a physician will monitor the recovery and determine whether further treatment is necessary.
Below are a few treatment options a physician may recommend if a baby seems to be suffering from permanent brachial plexus nerve damage.
Non-surgical Treatment: Range-of-Motion Exercises at Home
Daily physical therapy involves exercises parents can do at home with their infant to maintain the range-of-motion in the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. These exercises typically begin when a baby is about three weeks old and will also prevent joint contracture, which causes the joint to become permanently stiff, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Surgical Treatment to Restore Some Function
A doctor may suggest nerve surgery if there is no apparent improvement during the newborn’s first three to six months. A nerve transfer or nerve graft uses a donor nerve to repair some of the damage and return some arm function. While it does not typically restore total function, nerve surgery may help improve the baby’s ability to move the affected arm.
It may take months or years for the repaired nerves at the neck to reach the muscles of the lower arm and hand. At-home rehabilitation exercises will help improve strength and range of motion. Additional surgical procedures performed when the child is older may further improve the function of a child’s shoulder, arm or hand.
How Does Permanent Damage Happen During Birth?
Brachial plexus injuries leading to Erb’s palsy may occur when a baby is suffering from shoulder dystocia – meaning his or her shoulder is stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone during delivery. Too much pressure or pulling too hard can tear a newborn’s brachial plexus nerves and cause this permanent damage.
Brachial plexus palsy and Erb’s palsy – referring to damage sustained specifically to the upper nerves during birth – are preventable conditions, and they often point to a medical malpractice issue. Contact our firm if your child suffers from permanent damage to the shoulder, arm or hand. We can investigate your situation and answer your questions.