The brachial plexus is a nerve formation that covers the spinal cord down to the armpit, and its job is to control muscle movements in the shoulder, arm, hand and chest as well as feeling in the shoulder and arm. These nerves can be damaged, though, during a difficult delivery. Kentucky residents should know that brachial plexus injuries arise in three out of every 1,000 births.
There are four types of brachial plexus injuries. The most common, as well as the least severe, is neurapraxia. The nerve is simply stretched and can usually heal on its own within three months. When the nerve is torn where it does not attach to the spinal cord, then it’s referred to as a rupture. This, too, is common, and it may require surgery to be repaired.
In 10-20% of brachial plexus injury cases, the baby has sustained an avulsion, where the nerves are torn from the spinal cord. Surgical grafting may become necessary. Then there is neuroma: scar tissue that presses against an injured nerve and interferes with its function. This may necessitate nerve reconstruction.
Babies with a brachial plexus injury may have limited muscle function or paralysis in the upper arm. A droopy eyelid or smaller pupil can indicate Horner’s syndrome, a condition frequently linked with avulsion.
Birth injuries can occur partly or wholly through medical negligence. During a difficult delivery, doctors may resort to forceps or vacuums, which are tools that can increase the risk for injuries. Parents who intend to file a medical malpractice claim may do well to see a lawyer. The lawyer may hire medical experts and other third parties to show just how the other side failed to live up to objective medical standards. The lawyer may then strive for a settlement.