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What Are Brachial Plexus Injuries?

Newborn BabyLabor and delivery are both the most common and the most dangerous procedures that most medical professionals perform. Despite how frequently they are done, it is still distressingly common that so many birth injuries happen in a medical system billed as one of the world’s most advanced. Brachial plexus injuries, which affect nerves in the upper back and shoulders, are among the most often seen. They can be relatively inconsequential, or they can affect quality of life in a significant way, and the difference can depend on mere inches.

Statistics and Facts on Brachial Plexus Injuries

 In the United States, it is very difficult to determine the total statistics on birth trauma, due partly to a lack of population-based studies, and due partly to inconsistent reporting metrics. Rough estimates put the figures at 29 per 1,000 births nationwide, and the United Brachial Plexus Network estimates that within that population, two to five of those 29 are obstetric brachial plexus injury (OBPI). Comparatively, the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology published a study in 2004 that cites rates around the world of between 0.15 and three live births per 1,000. Thus, the United States’ incidence of OBPIs is middling to very high indeed.

Brachial plexus injuries can happen to adults as well as to infants (though they are most often the result of accidents when they happen to adults). After accidents, sports injuries tend to make up many of the rest of adult BPIs - the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) refers to these specifically as “stingers” or “burners,” named for the shooting pain that travels up one’s arm when one of these nerve injuries is sustained.

Symptoms of BPIs

While minor BPIs tend to disappear after minutes or hours, severe BPIs can have lifelong consequences, and they tend to appear with similar symptoms and presentation, depending on where the injury occurs on the body. Examples include: 

  • Loss of feeling in the shoulder area, elbow, wrist or arm;
  • Weakness in the nearby joints, such as an inability to grip with one hand;
  • Severe pain; and
  • Tics or twitches of the nerves affected.

With infants, the most common BPI is referred to as Erb’s palsy, and it affects the upper arm nerves, controlled by the C5-6 vertebrae. Erb’s palsy is caused either by dystocia (when a newborn becomes stuck in the mother’s birth canal, usually at the shoulders), or by fracturing the clavicle during delivery. While these things can occur naturally, it is much more likely that they will occur due to negligence - for example, electing to pursue cesarean section too late to avoid oxygen deprivation.

An Attorney Can Answer Your Questions

If you have doubts as to whether your baby’s injury was caused by the negligence of medical professionals or not, it may be best to consult an experienced birth injury attorney. The zealous San Jose birth injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand that the first priority is your baby’s quality of life, and we will do our absolute best to help you get answers and the compensation your family deserves. Contact our offices at (408) 289-1417 to set up a free initial appointment. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Monterey, Alameda and San Benito.

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Client Reviews
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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.