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What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy, sometimes referred to as Erb-Duchenne palsy, is a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the C5-C6 nerves. This is the upper group of the arm’s primary nerves, and they form part of the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is comprised of the ventral rami of spinal nerves, C5-C8, and the thoracic nerve T1.

These injuries most commonly arise due to shoulder dystocia during a difficult birth. However, trauma to the head and shoulder can cause Erb’s palsy at any age. Depending on the severity of the damage, the paralysis may resolve on its own over a period of months, or it may require rehabilitative therapy, surgery, or both.


Because damage to each nerve can range from bruising to tearing, paralysis can be partial or complete. The suprascapular nerve, musculocutaneous nerve, and the axillary nerve are the most commonly involved nerves.

The symptoms of Erb’s palsy include paralysis and atrophy of the deltoid, brachialis, and biceps muscles, as well as loss of sensation in the arm. If the injury occurs at an early age, development may be affected. The patient may be left with stunted growth, leaving the entire arm smaller than the unaffected arm.

Many people affected by this injury are unable to lift their arm above shoulder height unaided, and many are left with an elbow contracture. The lack of development can also affect the circulatory system and leave the arm without the normal ability to regulate its temperature. Additionally, inadequate circulation reduces the healing ability of the skin, leaving the patient more susceptible to infection.

Nerve damage is often the most problematic effect of Erb’s palsy, however, it is also the most varying. Some patients lose complete sensory perception in their arm, and some are only affected in the area between the shoulder and the elbow.


Dystocia, during an abnormal or difficult labor and delivery, is the most common cause of Erb’s paldy. It can occur due to excessive pulling on the shoulders, or if the head and neck are pulled toward the side simultaneous to the shoulders passing through the birth canal. It can also be caused by excessive pressure being placed on the arms during a breech delivery.

Similar injuries can be caused at any age when the nerves of the plexus are stretched violently, with the upper plexus sustaining the greatest injury. This can occur after any trauma, including a gunshot wound, car or motorcycle accident, or after arm traction.


Some newborns recover fully without intervention; however, others may require extensive surgical treatment and therapy. The three most common treatment options are nerve transfers, Latissimus Dorsi tendon transfers, and Sub Scapularis releases. Nerve transfers are usually performed when a baby is less than 9 months of age, since rapid development increases the effectiveness of the treatment.

Shea Law Group

If your child has suffered an injury that resulted in Erb’s palsy, or you yourself have been involved in an accident that left you with a brachial plexus injury, you will want to discuss your legal options with a dedicated Chicago injury lawyer. Our compassionate legal team will be happy to evaluate your case without charge or obligation.  Reach out to us at Shea Law Group by calling (877)-365-0040 or fill out a contact form online. We are here to help.