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How common is a brachial plexus Injury?

Posted on December 12, 2022

The network of nerves that sends signals from our spinal cord to our shoulders, arms, and hands is known as the “brachial plexus.” A brachial plexus injury occurs when those nerves are stretched, compressed, or torn away, and it is something that can happen to a newborn during childbirth. How often does such an injury occur? Is it preventable?

Brachial plexus injuries occur in 1-3 births for every 1,000 babies born. There are four basic types of brachial plexus injuries. The most serious type is known as avulsion, when the nerve is separated from the spinal cord. This occurs in just 10-20 percent of all births.

Still serious is a rupture or tear in the nerve. The mildest kind is neuropraxia, which is stretching the nerve. Neuroma is scar tissue that forms as an injury heals, and can interfere with nerve function.

Depending on which nerves are damaged, the baby may experience a related condition known as Erb’s palsy. Also known as brachial plexus birth palsy, this occurs when the upper branches of the brachial plexus are damaged, usually due to traction of the baby’s neck during childbirth.

Large babies and those born feet first are most at risk for brachial plexus birth injuries. A long labor can be a contributing factor. Parents with diabetes have a greater risk of their newborn having this injury. Mothers who took oxytocin to induce labor and those with frequent contractions also increase the likelihood.

Symptoms of a brachial plexus injury vary from adults to newborns. Brachial plexus injuries in newborns usually don’t cause much pain. In newborns, you are more likely to notice muscle weakness, paralysis of the arm or hand, and reduced movement or sensation in the arm or hand.

Most brachial plexus injuries in newborns will heal on their own, within 3-12 months. If symptoms don’t improve, surgery may be recommended. Other treatment includes physical and occupational therapy, electrostimulation, splints, and Botox injections.

While many things can complicate pregnancy, some birth injuries arise from human error, or things that could have been prevented. Tom Duffy has recovered birth injury settlements in excess of $20,000,000. If you would like to speak with a top Philadelphia birth injury attorney in Philadelphia, contact us to learn more.