What is the Brachial Plexus?
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves running from the spinal cord, across the shoulder, and down the front of the chest. The brachial plexus contains motor and sensory nerves and controls movement and sensation in the shoulder, upper arm, and hand. The nerves in the brachial plexus are relatively fragile. Because of this, they can be damaged in a variety of ways. Brachial plexus injuries range from mild to severe. Some brachial plexus injuries heal without medical attention and others require surgery. In extreme cases, traumatic brachial plexus injuries may result in life-long medical complications or conditions, such as Erb's Palsy or Horner's syndrome.
How Is the Brachial Plexus Injured During Birth?
Brachial plexus injuries are usually the result of a condition called "shoulder dystocia." Shoulder dystocia occurs when, during labor and delivery, an unborn child's shoulder becomes stuck on the cartilage between the mother's right and left pelvic bone. Shoulder dystocia is not usually a serious condition, but it can lead to serious complications. In order to assist the child from the birth canal, doctors and midwives may need to maneuver the child so that its shoulder can safely pass the mother's pelvic bones. If manipulated incorrectly, the nerves in the baby's shoulder could suffer.
There are several ways that a child's shoulder could be maneuvered past the mother's cartilage. In order to help the child through the birth canal, some doctors pull down on its head. Although this may effectively dislodge the baby's shoulder, it may also cause nerve damaged in the brachial plexus. Generally speaking, doctors, nurses, and midwives are taught to never pull down on a child's head. However, this maneuver is commonly practiced to resolve shoulder dystocia. During a difficult delivery, doctors may also use a vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the child.
Although these medical tools may be helpful, they can also be harmful. If the mother's pelvis is unusually shaped – such as an oval – a vacuum extractor may not be able to manipulate the baby's shoulders through the birth canal safely. If the child becomes stuck during delivery, it may suffer a brachial plexus injury. Forceps may cause an injury in the same way. If your child has suffered brachial plexus injury because of a careless doctor, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Money collected in a brachial plexus birth injury claim can be used to pay for medical expenses and other costs associated with your child's injury.
Types of Brachial Plexus Injuries
The brachial plexus can be injured in one of three ways:
- Stretch injuries usually heal without medical attention within several months of the initial trauma. A stretch injury occurs when the nerves of the brachial plexus become stretched or shocked. This usually happens where the larger nerves in the brachial plexus branch off into smaller nerves. Stretch injuries usually result in swelling of the nerves and loss of movement and feeling in the arm. As swelling subsides, sensation and movement will return to the arm.
- Rupture injuries are more severe than stretch injuries and may require medical attention and occur when the nerves in the brachial plexus actually break. Partial rupture injuries occur when the nerves break but the nerve sheath remains intact; when no nerve fibers remain between the broken pieces, a complete rupture has occurred. Ruptured nerves may attempt to heal themselves. However, this usually results in the formation of scar tissue.
- Avulsion injuries can be extremely severe. An avulsion occurs when the nerve roots in the brachial plexus are torn from the spinal cord. This type of injury may result in irreversible loss of movement and sensation in the affected arm. Although surgery may be able to repair some of the nerve damage, it is likely that the child will suffer from long-term complications such as Erb's Palsy or Horner's Syndrome. Other side effects might include decreased muscle tone, innervation, and bone growth in the affected limb.
Contact Our Firm for Trusted, Reliable Representation
If your child has suffered a brachial plexus injury because of a careless or negligent doctor, you may be entitled to money. At A Good Law Firm, we believe that careless and negligent medical professionals should be held responsible for their actions. Our firm has been recognized by 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News and 20/20. We have spent more than 35 years cultivating a reputation for ethical, effective and aggressive legal advocacy. A Springfield birth injury lawyer can help with your birth injury claim. The birth of a new child should be filled with joy – not the fear, frustration, and uncertainty.