Most people are familiar with cerebral palsy, a condition commonly caused by a lack of oxygen during birth. However, there are other similar conditions that can affect a baby after a challenging birth which aren’t as well known.
In this guide, we will explain brachial plexus injury, a birth injury which can result in either erb’s palsy or klumpke palsy, also known as klumpke paralysis.
These conditions are often caused by clinical negligence, in which case the parents can bring birth injury claims against those responsible. If managed by specialist medical negligence solicitors, these claims can result in compensation for the family to help them improve the quality of life of their child.
What is the brachial plexus?
The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that is responsible for sending signals from someone’s spinal cord to their hands, arms and shoulders, providing them with sensation in those areas and enabling them to move.
The brachial plexus begins in the root of the neck, passes through the axilla, and runs through the entire upper extremity (the upper arm, forearm and hand).
What is a brachial plexus injury?
An injury to the brachial plexus happens when the brachial plexus nerves are stretched, compressed, or in the worst case, separated from the spinal cord.
Brachial plexus injuries are fairly common during childbirth. Delivery can be traumatic for the baby, and injuries to the neck or shoulder areas can frequently occur. As this is where the brachial plexus is located, these injuries can cause damage to the brachial plexus. The risk of brachial plexus injury is increased if the infant has a high birth weight, is breeched or if labour is prolonged.
Brachial plexus birth injuries take one of two forms – either erb’s palsy or klumpke palsy.
Klumpke vs erb’s palsy - what is the difference between erb’s palsy and klumpke paralysis?
The difference between klumpke and erb’s palsy is where the damage to the musculocutaneous nerves occurs:
- Damage to the upper part of the brachial plexus causes erb’s palsy.
- Damage to the lower part of the brachial plexus causes klumpke palsy.
What is erb’s palsy?
Erb’s palsy is an injury of the brachial plexus nerve roots. This causes numbness and loss of motion around the shoulder and upper part of the arms. The loss of motion often leaves the person affected unable to flex their elbow, lift their arm or lift objects upwards. It is often most noticeable by the arm hanging limply from the shoulder, where the forearm is internally rotated, and the hand and wrist are flexed.
The prognosis is usually good for newborns with erb’s palsy, but some individuals will be affected for life. In these ongoing cases, parents may wish to make a medical negligence claim to help finance treatment and ongoing support.
What is klumpke palsy?
In klumpke palsy, the muscles affected are those in the forearm, caused by a nerve injury to the neck and shoulder in a difficult delivery.
Symptoms of klumpke palsy include:
- “Claw hand”, where the wrist and fingers are tightened
- Minimal grip strength in the affected hand
- A lack of a range of motion in the muscles of the affected arm or hand
- Stiff joints and a limp or paralysed arm
- The arm being bent at the elbow and held tightly to the body.
Klumpke palsy is the less common of the two conditions.
The recovery from brachial plexus birth injuries is slow, but thankfully possible and successful for many infants. Physical therapy is commonly used to stimulate healing of brachial plexus injuries. In more serious cases, surgical intervention will be required. In some instances, plexus injuries will require lifelong support to manage the condition.
Klumpke and erb’s palsy claims
If a birth injury such as klumpke palsy and erb’s palsy is caused by clinical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation which can help fund ongoing support and treatment for your child.
At Thompsons, we are experts in birth injury and childbirth negligence claims.