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What is Erb’s Palsy? Knowing more about a misunderstood medical condition

August 16, 2021

Lindsey Caplan independent Erb's Palsy expert

In part one of a new content series, we’ll explore and answer What is Erb’s Palsy?

And examine how the condition can impact young children and their families. 

To ensure we are creating pathways to vital Erb’s Palsy support, we continue to work with knowledgeable, independent experts, such as Lindsey Caplan.

Lindsey has a wealth of experience as a counsellor and is a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

In total, she has over 20 years’ experience, supporting parents of children with life limiting conditions and illnesses. Lindsey places a particular focus on supporting parents with disabled children to confront the many challenges ahead together.

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Formally known as Brachial Plexus Paralysis, EP is a muscle condition with links to a traumatic birth.

The brachial plexus is made up from five large nerves. These nerves link to the vertebrae, which are the bones in the neck, ensuring feeling throughout the arm.

The nerves are visible by the symbols C5, C6, C7, C8 and T1 and then fan out between the arm’s muscle and tissue.

Brachial plexus nerves in Erb's Palsy

How can it happen?

The condition is predominantly a birth defect where trauma places pressure or force on the five primary nerve junctions of the child’s arm.

An example of this happening could be from a doctor or health professional using excessive force.

The baby, as a result, may become stuck in the birth canal when medical professionals are attempting to assist with the delivery.

Newborn baby with Erb's Palsy

According to the UK’s leading independent Erb’s Palsy group, EPG, ‘early Intervention is crucial to ascertain the full extent of damage.’ 

What does Erb’s Palsy look like?

When it comes to assessing what Erb’s Palsy looks like, normally a paediatrician will be able to spot the symptoms of Erb’s Palsy.

Often, the severity of the paralysis or injury is down to nerve damage and tell-tale signs include:

  • Weakness in one arm
  • A loss of feeling in the same arm
  • The arm being floppy
  • Partial or total paralysis of the arm

In addition to the above, the elbow may not bend completely, meaning a loss of movement and flexibility in a person’s arm.

Little boy with Erb's Palsy jumping in air

Sometimes the hand may also be in a ‘waiters tip’ position. This is where the hand is facing the opposite way.

More complex, debilitating damage to the nerve sections, may result in permanent hand damage where the hand can’t function effectively.

Other examples we are aware of also include Horner’s syndrome.

Horner’s syndrome impacts the physical appearance of someone. Eyelids may droop or the pupil in one eye may appear smaller.

With a baby, they may also develop Torticollis. This is a condition where the child faces away from the arm that has nerve damage.

What can Erb’s Palsy effect?

According to research, one or two of every 1,000 babies are born with Erb’s Palsy.

In terms of the future impact of the condition, this generally depends on:

  • How soon after childbirth the nerve damage is seen
  • & how deep the damage is

Furthermore, if there is no diagnosis at birth, EP can impact on later life.

Although, there are occasions where the condition is found early, but it still has some limitations on a child’s development and the life they lead.

Erb’s Palsy in newborn babies

Through our own expert guidance, Solicitor, Niall Murtagh was able to successfully take C’s Erb’s Palsy case to a settlement.

In September 2009, our client was born with the use of forceps at North Middlesex University NHS Trust, resulting in Erb’s Palsy.

Niall made sure our client’s current limitations, with her upper left limb, are now also seen as a disability.

This means that throughout our client’s development, she will receive vital access to treatment and therapies that she would struggle to receive otherwise.

If you suspect your child was born with Erb’s Palsy, speak to our expert team today on 0330 013 0251 or make your claim here

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