An Overview Of Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that connects to the spinal cord in the neck and shoulder area. The motor nerves in the brachial plexus control the movements of the arm, hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder, while its sensory nerves transmit information about touch, temperature, pressure and pain.

Causes And Symptoms

The nerves of the brachial plexus are delicate and can become injured if the head is forced away from the shoulders, causing the nerves to stretch or tear. In the most severe cases, the nerves of the brachial plexus may even be pulled out by their roots. In children and adults, damage to the brachial plexus often occurs as a result of sports injuries or car accidents. Among infants, brachial plexus injuries may occur at birth if excessive force is used during delivery.

The symptoms of brachial plexus birth injuries range from mild to severe, and often include numbness, paralysis or lack of motor control in the affected limb. In some cases, a condition known as Horner Syndrome may develop, causing changes in the appearance of the eye and face on the injured side of the body.

Depending on the severity of the injury and how it is treated, the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury may be temporary or permanent. Long-term complications may include muscle atrophy and deformity of the affected body parts, as well as an abnormal curvature of the spine known as scoliosis.

Risk Factors

Most brachial plexus birth injuries occur when an infant’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal during delivery. This condition is known in medical terms as shoulder dystocia. Through proper prevention, detection and management of shoulder dystocias, many brachial plexus injuries can be avoided.

There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus injuries during birth, including:

  • High infant birth weight
  • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Small or unusually shaped maternal pelvis
  • Short maternal stature
  • Delivery after due date
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps during delivery

In addition, the risk is higher among women who have experienced a shoulder dystocia or brachial plexus injury during a prior birth.

Medical Care And Compensation

When an infant suffers a brachial plexus injury during birth, prompt treatment is critical to prevent further damage and ensure the child’s best chances of recovery. Depending on the circumstances, a number of surgical and physical therapy options may be available. Parents of children affected by birth injuries may wish to consult with an attorney about the possibility of seeking compensation for the injury and related expenses.