We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Erb's Palsy?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 05, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Erb’s palsy is a condition that most often occurs in newborns as a result of injury during birth. The British doctor William Smellie first noted the condition in 1768, although it derives its name from the writings of Wilhelm Heinrich Erb, a 19th and early 20th century neurologist.

You may also hear Erb’s palsy described as brachial plexus paralysis, and though it is most common in newborns, it can occur in adults. Paralysis or limited movement occurs throughout either of the arms as a result of injuries to one or more of the nerves that give us feeling and range of motion in our arms. There are five nerves which can be affected, resulting in minor to major reduction in sensation or movement of an arm. All five nerves that can be damaged and create the condition are part of the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that are attached to the spine from the neck to the middle part of the upper spine. If these nerves are injured in adults, the same symptoms can emerge.

Usually Erb’s palsy will result in infants because of dystocia, difficult presentation and childbirth. A child who is stuck in the head first position (vertex), may have nerves damaged due to pulling on the shoulders. Breech birth can cause the condition too, if the arms are raised above the head and stretched. A few cases occur if the collarbone of the newborn is broken.

Though some infants may recovery from Erb’s palsy, others may have lifelong effects from it if it is not treated during the first year of life. Treatment may include taking nerves from the opposite leg and grafting them to the affected nerves in the arm to help improve range of motion and sensation. Other surgeries may be chosen instead, depending upon the degree of damage and the nerves affected.

When not treated, Erb’s palsy can cause stunting of growth to the arm, limited range of motion, or complete inability to move the arm. Some people also develop arthritis early in the affected arm and shoulder, and even those who have undergone treatment are more likely to develop arthritis. When surgery is even partly successful, patients usually need physical therapy to help recover range of motion.

Very mild cases of Erb’s palsy, where a nerve has been minimally stretched during birth, may be recovered from completely without intervention. However, the key to restoring full function to the arm is early intervention. If you note that an infant’s arm seldom, if ever, moves, or seems weak in comparison to the other arm, you should speak to your child’s physician and get a referral to a specialist who is experienced with treating children with this condition.

In very rare cases, avulsion occurs, when the nerve is not just stretched or damaged, but has been completely ripped from the spinal cord. Ideally this should receive treatment as early as possible, though treatment may not be able to totally restore function. It can however, give a better chance for children to regain some function of the affected arm.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.