Brachial Plexus and Erb’s Palsy

Brachial Plexus and Erb's Palsy

What is Brachial Plexus? 

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves near the neck that give rise to all nerves of the arm. Palsy means weakness, so therefore brachial plexus birth palsy causes arm weakness and loss of motion in newborn babies.

What is Erb’s Palsy / Erb–Duchenne palsy?

Erb’s palsy (or Erb–Duchenne palsy) is a form of brachial plexus palsy. One or two in every 1,000 babies present with this condition. It is often caused when an infant’s neck is stretched to the side during a difficult delivery. Recovery of movement and feeling in the affected arm occurs in most cases, often with daily physio and exercises. However, parents will play an active role in helping their child recover maximum function in the affected arm.

How can this type of injury be caused during childbirth?

Brachial plexus injuries in newborn babies usually occurs during a very difficult delivery, often when the baby presents as large, in a breech position or following a long labour. It can also happen if a birth becomes complicated and the midwife or delivery team must deliver the baby quickly and exert some force/pressure to extract the baby from the birth canal.


Because most newborns with brachial plexus birth palsy recover on their own, a doctor will re-examine the child frequently to check on nerve recovery. Nerves tend to grow and recover very slowly, and it can in fact take up to 2 years for a recovery. There are both non-surgical and surgical treatment options for Erbs and Brachial Plexus palsy.

Non-surgical treatment

Daily physio sessions are the main treatment for this condition, assisted of course by the parent, as a newborn’s mobility and ability to lift limbs is extremely limited, even in a normal and healthily presenting child. Exercises will maintain motion in the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand and this will prevent the joint from becoming permanently stiff (a condition called joint contracture.)

Surgical treatment

A doctor may suggest surgical treatment if there has been no improvement over the first 3 to 6 months of non-surgical intervention. In microsurgery, surgeons will often use microscopes and small specialized instruments. It should be noted that nerve surgery does not typically fully restore the normal function of the affected body-part and is usually not helpful in older infants.

As with all medical negligence cases, the process can be lengthy, and it is important to take those initial first steps of gathering information, and seeking the advices of a legal representative, who can point you in the right direction as to how to deal with your potential medical negligence claim.

What to do next if your child suffers from a Birth Injury

To discuss your case in confidence with experienced medical negligence birth injuries solicitors, please FREEphone us on 1800 844 104  or email Kathrin Coleman or Marguerite Baily for further information.


The Irish Time 27.01.2015 – ‘Staff had concerns over problem births at Portiuncula Hospital’

Clare Champion – ‘Families call for extended maternity review’

Sunday Independent 08.02.2015 - ‘Maternity Deaths probe widens as new cases emerge’

The Independent 11.02.2015 – ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda Audit into undiagnosed breech births’

RTÉ 13.05.2015 – ‘HSE investigating baby death at Cavan General Hospital’

The Irish Times 20.05.2015 ‘Boy receives €8.5 million settlement over birth injuries’

The 24.05.2015 - ‘Ireland’s maternity units are facing chronic and dangerous understaffing’

The Irish Times 10.06.2015 - ‘Cavan maternity unit review begins after four baby deaths‘

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