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Brachial Plexus Injury at Birth

On Behalf of | Feb 24, 2020 | Birth Trauma

Brachial plexus injuries occur during childbirth when an infant’s neck is stretched too far to one side causing nerve damage.

What Is Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?

Brachial plexus birth injuries affect the nerve network located between the neck and shoulders. These nerves provide muscle control in the shoulder, chest, arms, hands, and fingers, as well as feeling in upper limbs. Injuries normally happen during childbirth when the brachial plexus is compressed, stretched, or torn during a difficult delivery caused by a long labor, small birth canal, delivery complications, or breech birth.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of a brachial plexus birth injury include numbness, limpness in the arms, a weak grip strength, and partial or complete lack of movement. Identifying brachial plexus in newborns requires an accurate diagnosis from a specialist who treats these types of injuries. Diagnosis may include X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and nerve conduction studies that test nerve and muscle function.


In cases where the nerves are stretched, a baby may regain normal movement and feeling in the arms without any treatments at all, while other babies may require further studies and physical therapy. If the nerves are torn, and outside of the spinal cord, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage.

In 10 to 20 percent of cases, the nerve roots are torn away from the spinal cord. When this occurs, damage cannot be repaired by surgical procedures. Damaged tissue must be surgically replaced with nerve grafts, nerve transfers, or muscle and tendon transfers. In severe cases, brachial plexus birth injury can cause more severe health conditions:

  • Erb’s Palsy – Injury to C5, C6, and C7 vertebrae create weak muscles of the shoulder and biceps. Physical therapy is usually started at 3 weeks of age to prevent limb stiffness, muscle atrophy, and shoulder dislocation.
  • Horner’s Syndrome – Injury to the T2 and T4 region may cause more severe damage including a smaller eye pupil, drooping eyelid, and diminished sweat glands on the affected side of the face.

Brachial plexus birth injury occurs in one to three out of 1,000 births. It requires a quick diagnosis for the best recovery. If injuries are caused by medical negligence during childbirth, a birth injury lawyer can file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover compensation for necessary medical treatments, surgical procedures, and future medical costs incurred because of the baby’s injury.