Newborn baby in ICU

Symptoms of brachial plexus injury may include weakness, numbness, or complete paralysis of the hand, arm, and shoulder.

What Is a Brachial Plexus Injury?

Brachial plexus injuries occur when the brachial plexus nerves are damaged. The nerve complex includes five nerves from vertebra C5 through T1. Together, these nerves help the shoulder, arm, and hand move and function normally.

Minor brachial plexus injuries may be a result of contact sports, but these injuries can also effect babies who sustained some sort of trauma during birth.

In the case of minor brachial plexus injuries, the nerves are usually only inflamed, stretched, or compressed.


Severe brachial plexus injuries can occur as a result of birth injury, sometimes caused by medical negligence, but the most common cause is auto or motorcycle accidents. In these cases, the brachial nerves can be severed or torn away from the spinal cord.

In some cases, injuries to the brachial plexus at birth may result in Erb’s palsy, a condition involving weakness or paralysis in the arm.

What Are Brachial Plexus Injury Symptoms?

Sleeping newborn - symptoms of brachial plexus injuryMinor brachial plexus injury symptoms may only include numbness, weakness, and a feeling of electrical shock or burning in the arm, according to the Mayo Clinic. Severe cases may result in more serious symptoms of brachial plexus injury, including weakness of the hand, arm, or shoulder; complete lack of feeling in the arm, hand, and shoulder; severe pain; and total paralysis.

In children with Erb’s palsy, the condition may present itself in an internally rotated arm and the inability for a child to raise their arm, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). In some cases, the child may be able to move their fingers normally but cannot move the shoulder.

For the most part, brachial plexus palsy at birth will present itself in loss of feeling and paralysis regardless of the severity of nerve damage.


How Is a Brachial Plexus Injury Treated?

Treatment for a brachial plexus injury will depend on how severe the injury is, AAOS says. However, most treatment will focus on preventing joint seizure and muscle atrophy regardless of the injury severity.

Mild brachial plexus injuries may only require nonsurgical treatment such as medication and physical therapy that can help heal the nerve and return function. In the case of brachial plexus birth injuries, parents need to be hands on with this treatment because infants are unable to complete exercises on their own.

Severe brachial plexus injuries may require surgery to repair the nerve. If a nerve is severed, a patient may need a nerve-repair surgery or nerve graft to rejoin the two ends of the nerve. Other surgeries, including nerve transfer and tendon or muscle transfer, may also be required to treat the condition. Even after surgery, continued physical therapy will likely be required as the nerve regenerates itself.

If the nerve has been completely torn away from the spinal cord, repair might not be possible. This can leave patients with permanent paralysis. In these cases, physical therapy exercises may be recommended for individuals with permanent paralysis in order to avoid joint stiffness and muscle atrophy.

Although some brachial plexus injuries are unavoidable, other brachial plexus birth injuries may be attributed to doctor negligence. For example, if a doctor refuses to deliver a baby through C-section despite risk factors or injures the newborn during birth, they could be held liable for these damages.


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