Erb's palsy and birth

Erb's palsy, also known as obstetric brachial plexus palsy, can occur during difficult labor. Parents in California who have a baby who is born with Erb's palsy should be equipped with information about the implications and recovery associated with it.

According to John Hopkins, Erb's palsy happens in fewer than 1% of births. It typically occurs when there is difficulty with the baby's shoulder delivery, and the nerves of the brachial plexus are torn or stretched. This results in an inability to flex the elbow and a loss of shoulder motion. The severity of the issue varies in each occurrence, and this determines the recovery prognosis.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that the doctor will use ultrasound or x-ray to determine the amount of damage to the joints and bones of the shoulder. While many newborns can recover on their own, it can take up to two years for complete recovery. With frequent exams of the area, the doctor may determine that additional treatment will be helpful in the healing process.

Physical therapy is the most commonly prescribed method to help. Parents learn exercises that must be performed daily on the baby's shoulder and arm. These usually begin at week three and consist of movements that improve ranges of motion of the wrist, hand, elbow and shoulder. 

While surgery is not typically necessary, the doctor may recommend it if no changes have occurred by six months. Surgery may consist of a nerve transfer or graft, and small instruments and high-powered microscopes are used. Nerves take a long time to recover, and some weakness may still be noticeable in later years. Continual physical therapy is recommended for the best outcome. 

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