Three out of every 1,000 babies born in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. are likely to have an injury to their brachial plexus. This network of nerves runs from the spinal cord to the armpit, and its purpose is to control sensation and movement in the upper limb. A nerve in the brachial plexus can be injured in a number of ways.
The most common brachial plexus injury is neurapraxia: that is, the stretching of the nerve. No treatment is usually required for this as the nerve will heal itself by the time the baby is three months old. Ruptures, also common, involve the tearing of the nerve, but not where it attaches to the spinal cord, and may need to be repaired surgically.
When a nerve is torn from the spinal cord, the result is an avulsion. Roughly 10-20% of brachial plexus injury cases are avulsions. Direct surgery cannot repair this, but a nerve transfer would have to be performed instead. Then there is the possibility that the baby develops a neuroma, which is scar tissue that presses against an injured nerve.
Brachial plexus injuries usually arise during a difficult delivery, though other factors like macrosomia (an unusually large baby) raise the risk for them. Affected babies will have limited movement or paralysis in the upper arm.
It’s not only newborns who sustain brachial plexus injuries; even adolescents and adults do. When the injury is the result of negligence on the part of a doctor or nurse, the victim or the family may pursue a medical malpractice case. Having a lawyer may prove to be helpful, especially since there are several requirements that must be made for a claim to be valid. A lawyer may also handle all negotiations for a settlement out of court.