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Brachial Plexus Injuries

So many feelings occur during a birth. The exhilaration of knowing the long wait is almost over. The emotional and physical exhaustion from labour. The worry that there may be complications. And, hopefully, the joy of welcoming a new life into the world. 

For some families dealing with birth injuries, the moment of joy can be short-lived. Learning that the newest member of your family has been hurt just as they are starting out in the world can be devastating – especially if the injury results in severe pain or permanent disability. 

Brachial plexus injuries (also known as shoulder dystocias) are one of the most common types of birth injuries. One or two cases occur for every 1,000 births. While most children who sustain these injuries will make a full recovery or regain most of the use of their arms, others will require surgery and may be permanently disabled. 

If your child or the child of a loved one has experienced a brachial plexus (shoulder dystocia) injury at birth, you may be able to make a claim for damages and losses. With expertise in brachial plexus birth injuries, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers can help your family seek the compensation you deserve. 

A common birth injury. 

What is the brachial plexus? 

A network that connects the nerve roots in the neck and torso portions of the spinal cord with nerves in the arms, the brachial plexus creates communication pathways that allow the brain to signal movements and motions for your arms, wrists, hands, and fingers. These nerves also provide sensory messaging to the skins in these areas. 

A complex network, the brachial plexus has fives major branches: 

  • Musculocutaneous nerve (upper arm flexing and movement of the shoulder and elbow).  
  • Axillary nerve (shoulder rotation to help move the arms from the body). 
  • Median nerve (forearm and some hand movement).  
  • Radial nerve (controls various arm and hand muscles). 
  • Ulnar nerve (fine motor skills of fingers). 

How can the brachial plexus be injured? 

The nerves in the brachial plexus can become injured if they are stretched, torn, cut, or completely detached from the spinal cord. Milder injuries such as stretches (also called stingers and burners) may resolve on their own. More severe injuries will tend to require more interventions such as occupational and/or physical therapy, medications, assistive devices or surgeries. 

People of any age can suffer brachial plexus injuries. Outside of infancy, they can be caused by: 

  • Blunt force trauma. 
  • Sports injuries. 
  • Medical errors during surgery. 
  • Cancers or infections.  
  • Radiation therapy. 

Brachial plexus birth injuries. 

A relatively common birth injury, the risk of brachial plexus injuries tends to be great for larger babies in difficult vaginal deliveries, babies in the breech position, babies of mothers with diabetes, or babies born after unusually long labours.  

Although sometimes these injuries are unavoidable despite the best efforts of the team delivering the baby, other times the injuries occur when medical practitioners breach the standard of care through negligent acts or omissions. This might lead to a birth injury accident. Some examples of actions taken by the delivery team that could result in medical malpractice include: 

  • Failure to anticipate a potentially difficult birth due to the baby’s size, position, and other risk factors. 
  • Failure to notice the baby is lodged behind the mother’s pelvic bone. 
  • Failure to monitor for signs of fetal distress. 
  • Failure to perform a C-section when necessary. 
  • Using too much force to pull the baby from the birth canal. 
  • Applying too much pressure to the baby’s head and neck during delivery. 
  • Use of tools such as vacuums or forceps. 
  • Failure to provide appropriate care following the birth. 

Types of brachial plexus birth injuries. 

There are two main types of birth injuries affecting the brachial plexus. 

  1. Erb’s palsy: is the more common of the two. This injury involves disruption to the upper brachial plexus nerves. It causes numbness or paralysis to the shoulders, arm and elbow, and may cause numbness or tingling sensations in the hand. The condition may prevent a person from lifting their arm or bringing objects to their mouth. 
  2. Klumpke’s palsy: is a less common injury affecting the lower brachial plexus. It can result in disability in the wrist and hand including loss of motion, loss of sensation, inability to move fingers. 

Each of these conditions can cause avulsion (a nerve ripped from the spine), a nerve rupture (a tear), a neuroma (scar tissue from a tear), or neurapraxia (stretched nerves).  

Quick diagnosis is key. 

If a brachial plexus birth injury has occurred, it is extremely important for prompt medical treatment. While some of these injuries will resolve on their own without intervention, other treatments and therapies must begin quickly for neurologists and neurosurgeons to gauge the infant’s progress.  

Nerve injuries take time to heal. For infants, functional improvements should be noted within three months of physical therapy and occupational therapy. About one in 10 infants with brachial plexus injuries will require surgery. If surgery is required, it is best performed between four to nine months after birth. Surgeries performed more than a year after a brachial plexus birth injury are often less successful at restoring function. 

Diagnosing brachial plexus injuries. 

A primary examination of the hand and arm to test for sensation and function can help determine if there may have been an injury. Other tests to diagnose of confirm a diagnosis include: 

  • X-rays of the neck and shoulders. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) or computed tomography (CT) scans, including dye tests. 
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyograms. 

Sometimes these tests are repeated to measure the progress of treatments. 

Why should I consult a birth injury lawyer? 

When your newborn has suffered a serious injury, he or she may experience pain, suffering and permanent disability. At a time when your family should be joyfully getting to know your baby, you may have to spend time at many doctor’s appointments and in therapy. If a brachial plexus injury at birth is the result of medical malpractice, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers can help as you seek compensation for these losses and move forward with your lives. 

Although brachial plexus injuries are relatively common birth injuries, doctors, midwives, and medical staff who have ignored risk factors, or have failed to provide the appropriate standard of care, may be liable in damages. Any serious birth injury should be subject to an investigation to determine if negligence on the part of medical professionals caused or contributed to the injury. 

Experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled birth injury lawyers understand what evidence is needed to determine the viability of a claim. Gluckstein’s brachial plexus birth injury lawyers have a solid track record for results on the claims we’ve handled. Often these cases are settled long before trial. However, you can count on us to have prepared a court-ready case with independent medical experts prepared to offer assessments on whether the standards of care have been breached.  

The Gluckstein Lawyers commitment to full-circle care.  

When you contact our top birth injury lawyers for your free, no obligation consultation, we will listen to you with empathy. In addition to explaining your legal options, we make a point to connect you to any resources that may be helpful to you and your family as it adapts. As long-time supporters of disability rights organizations, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers is dedicated to fostering a sense of community.  

A setback so early in a young life can be challenging. But with the help of our team, you and your loved ones can take some of the steps needed to live your best life 

Ontario Brachial Plexus Birth Injury Lawyers.



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