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What Is Erb's Palsy

Updated on September 3, 2012
The Brachial Plexus
The Brachial Plexus | Source

Definition of Erb's Palsy

Erb's Palsy (also known as Erb Duchenne Palsy or Brachial Plexus Paralysis) is a form of brachial plexus palsy. This condition is not due to any genetic or brain conditions and is mainly due to birth trauma. For babies with this condition, motion and feeling in the arm is lost which may or may not be recovered.

What is the Brachial Plexus?
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves found at the neck which is responsible for giving movement and feeling to the arm. After coming out of the neck, these nerves divide amongst the muscles and tissues of the arm, passing under the collar bone. The Brachial Plexus contains the major nerves of the arm.

What does Palsy mean?
Palsy means weakness and brachial plexus birth palsy causes loss of motion and weakness in the affected arm (or arms).

How often does Erb's Palsy occur?

Erb's Palsy effects one or two of every 1, 000 babies born.

What Happens to Individuals with Erb's Palsy

Each case of Erb's Palsy is different - many of the factors are due to how severe the injury is or the number of nerves affected.

Some common issues for those with Erb's Palsy include:

  • An elbow which does not bend, having the hand held turning backwards in a "waiters tip" position. (commonly seen in those with the first two nerves C5 C6 affected).
  • Complete paralysis or weakness in the hand and arm (seen when all nerves are affected)
  • Associated Horners Syndrome
  • Associated Toticollis
  • Sensory loss in the arm and hand

How can Erb's Palsy be treated?

The best treatment for Erb's Palsy is Early Intervention. This will find out the full extent of the damage and tests can be done to find out which nerve(s) are damaged.

For babies with Erb's Palsy, treatment in the first year of life can have a significant impact on their recovery.

What treatments are used for Erb's Palsy patients?

  • Physiotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Tendon/Muscle Release
  • Nerve Grafts

Can Erb's Palsy be Cured?

The recovery of an individual with Erb's Palsy depends of the severity of the condition and how badly the nerve was damaged. In some cases the damage will be repaired quite quickly, whilst others will be left with residual weakness.

If the nerve fibres were only mildly stretched, the child should recover use of their muscles quite quickly - usually between six to twelve months.

The greater the number of nerve fibres that have been stretched or pulled apart, the weaker the muscle will be - thus the longer it will take for the child to regain use of that muscle.

When a nerve has been severely damaged, but is still connected, the nerve may heal - however scar tissue often forms at the site of the damage. This scar tissue can stop electrical messages getting to the muscles.

If a nerve is pulled apart completely, it cannot repair itself - thus the muscles it controls are paralysed. The child may have an operation early on in life to mend the nerve to restore some function to the muscle - however these children are likely to be left with some residual weakness.


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