Next week, October 19-26, will be the 9th annual Brachial Plexus Injury Awareness Week. This event was created by the United Brachial Plexus Network, Inc. with the goal of increasing general awareness of brachial plexus injuries.
A brachial plexus injury occurs when the network of spinal nerves which controls the muscles of the fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder, called the brachial plexus, is damaged. These nerves originate at the back of the neck and extend through the axilla (armpit) and into the arm, where they form 3 trunks in the upper shoulder. Erb’s Palsy refers to an injury to the upper trunk while a lower trunk injury is called Klumpke’s Palsy.
A brachial plexus injury can result in full or partial paralysis of one or both arms and can be permanent if the nerves do not completely heal. In less severe instances, the nerve damage may cause weakness or a loss of muscle control in the arm, hand, or wrist, resulting in the impaired ability to grasp, extend, or reach, or a lack of feeling or sensation in the arm or hand. Physical appearance can also be affected.
Most brachial plexus injuries occur during an emergency birth condition called shoulder dystocia in which the baby’s shoulder becomes wedged behind the mother’s pubic bone while in delivery. There are several techniques or maneuvers to free the baby’s shoulder and complete the delivery safely but if the person performing the delivery is careless or applies excessive force to the baby’s head or neck, the brachial nerves can become stretched or torn.