Brachial plexus injuries are among the more widespread birth injuries, affecting three out of every 1,000 births in New Jersey and across the U.S. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that controls movement and feeling in the upper limb; it extends from the spinal cord to the armpit. It’s usually in a difficult delivery that the nerves here are damaged, though other factors increase the risk (a large baby, a small mother, the use of forceps).
As a result of this injury, the baby may have limited movement or paralysis in the affected arm and shoulder. The severity of the injury will depend on what type it is. The nerve may only be stretched (neurapraxia), for example. This is the most common brachial plexus injury, and it can heal on its own after about three months. A torn nerve (rupture) may require surgery, and if it’s torn from the spinal cord (avulsion), a nerve transfer will likely be needed.
There are other forms of brachial plexus injuries. Erb’s palsy affects the upper group of nerves. If all of the five nerves in the brachial plexus are injured, this is called total plexus involvement. A child with this may have no movement whatsoever in the shoulder, arm and hand.
Brachial plexus injuries can, like many birth injuries, be the result of medical negligence. Perhaps the doctor or nurse used the forceps or vacuum extractor improperly. Whatever the nature of the case, the parents may file a medical malpractice claim and be compensated for their losses, including medical bills and emotional trauma. It may be wise to hire a lawyer, though, because malpractice claims require a lot of specialized knowledge and can meet with a lot of resistance from the other side’s own legal team.