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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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    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you Audrey :)

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

      Very nice, Kristy - medical things are sometimes hard for some people to explain but not you~ Great job and love the details about how it happens, can it be cured, etc~

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you Helen! When I was younger, my parents never said I had "Erb's palsy" as it sounds so awful, so we always referred to it as a "rotational birth injury" until a doctor mentioned I had it and I thought I was critically ill! Silly how much difference a scary sounding term makes!

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      What a really interesting hub. It's the first time I've heard of the condition, Erb's Palsy and you describe it very well. I also love the diagrams - especially as the nerves often confused me a lot during my nursing years and still do unless I have a diagram or photo nearby!

      A thoroughly absorbing and fascinating hub + voted up + shared!

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Maddie, I actually have Erb's Palsy myself (I had severe nerve damage at birth and still suffer from problems) so it was interesting to write :)

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thankyou! Glad your son doesn't have any long term problems!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Very clear presentation of valuable information. You've put together a great resource for those touched by Erb's Palsy here!

    • LA Elsen profile image

      LA Elsen 5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      This is really interesting. My son suffered shoulder and neck trauma during birth and thankfully came out ok. Erbs Palsy was one of the risks the doctor was looking for. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.