What to Expect if Your Child Has a Brachial Plexus Injury
Also known as neonatal brachial plexus palsy, a brachial plexus injury involves tension with nerves in the shoulder and neck that affect arm movement. When your baby has such an injury, it can affect his or her motor skills and, in some cases, leave a child paralyzed. Knowing about this issue and its accompanying symptoms will allow you to pick up the signs and target particular treatment methods depending on the severity.
What is the Brachial Plexus?
The brachial plexus is a nerve network that sends signals from your spinal cord to your shoulders, arms, and hands. When this network is damaged, it can injure or paralyze the arm.
A brachial plexus injury occurs once due to nerve compression, stretching, or the nerve being torn apart from the spinal cord. While such an injury can take place at any time, this injury is commonplace during childbirth and tends to happen on one side of the body. The baby’s shoulders may be pulled downwards while it stretches through the birth canal during childbirth. The larger the child is, the more difficult it is for the baby to move through the canal. Birth-assisting tools may need to be used during delivery, with the increased force and application taking a toll on the baby’s nervous system. These tools are necessary if labor lasts longer than 24 hours, with forceps and a suction device used to aid birth.
This injury is treatable through rehabilitation and physical strengthening in many instances. However, in other cases, a child will be unable to use its arm and needs surgical means to treat the issue.
How to Detect a Brachial Plexus Injury
Considering a brachial plexus injury interferes with muscle control, detecting a brachial plexus injury becomes easier once you notice fundamental movement issues. Such signs can be detected at birth or soon after that.
If your baby has trouble moving one arm and that arm is hanging limp, it is a noticeable sign that your child may have this injury. If your child is unable to grip even the smallest objects, lacking muscle function in the arms, hand, or wrist, you need to see a specialist right away. It may be that your child’s arm is weak and needs some therapy to nurse it back to full strength or that it’s numb altogether.
There are also rare cases that a child might develop a droopy eyelid on one side, or his or her pupil may be smaller. Even less sweating than normal from your child should be taken into account as a potential factor.
Whenever any or all of these potential signs become apparent, your family specialist may conduct an imaging test to make sure no other problems exist with your baby’s joints and muscles. A nerve conduction study or an electromyography (EMG) may be used to examine nerve signals in your baby’s upper arm muscle.
Brachial Plexus Injury Types
There are variations of brachial plexus injuries that take place and treatment for each variety depends on how severe the damage is.
The most common brachial plexus injury is neurapraxia, which involves nerve stretching or damage but the nerve isn’t torn. This variation is the mildest, and your child’s affected nerves will heal on their own. Recovery often takes four to six weeks, and the nerves will fully heal during or after this span. Then, there are instances where the nerve is ruptured, but not where it attaches to the spinal cord. Such cases, as well as with a neuroma, where a scar forms after a stretch or tear, require surgery. However, with neuroma, healing can take place on its own but might take a while longer than normal.
The most serious brachial plexus injury is an avulsion, where the nerve roots are cut from the spinal cord. Surgery is required as early as possible whenever a child is suffering from an avulsion as leaving it untreated for too long can have long-term damaging effects.
What Can You Do?
If you are the parent of a child with such an injury, you’ll be exploring your treatment options and wondering if you have the financial standing to seek such treatment. In the meantime, there are things you as a parent can do to make life easier for your baby if it has a brachial plexus injury.
You won’t want to touch your child’s too much, but there is nothing wrong with gently moving it to test its strength. When picking up your child, support the baby under its hips, behind the shoulder blades, and under the head for maximum comfort. When putting your child to sleep, place the baby on its back with a small blanket under the unaffected side, allowing it to lie partially on its affected side.
Once your child wakes up, you can dress his or her affected arm into clothing to ensure the nerve isn’t stretched too much. You can also place your baby on its tummy each day to help it get stronger and place toys to its affected side to be able to turn to them. Doing your part in the interim can make dealing with an injury more manageable.
Treatment for a Brachial Plexus Injury
Therapy with an occupational or physical therapist is recommended to treat a brachial plexus injury successfully. Therapists test your child’s range of motion and show you how to exercise the affected arm, doing these exercises multiple times a day.
For severe cases, such as an avulsion mentioned above, surgery must be imminent. Your baby might need a nerve transfer, moving a healthy nerve from another area of the body to the affected area. Alternative options include using a cast, splint, or getting a Botox injection to treat muscle imbalances a brachial plexus injury causes.
If your child’s brachial plexus injury was caused by excessive force or negligence, the Safe Birth Project offers legal case help in collecting damages for your child’s suffering. Get in touch with the experts right away.