Klumpke’s palsy, also known as Klumpke paralysis or Dejerine-Klumpke palsy, is a birth injury that results from damage to a network of spinal nerves called the brachial plexus. Damage of the lower two of the five brachial plexus nerves can result in Klumpke’s palsy, which can lead to paralysis in the hand and forearm.
What causes Klumpke’s palsy?
Klumpke’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury that affects movement of the hand, forearm, or wrist flexors.
Brachial plexus injuries commonly occur when the baby either becomes stuck during delivery or passes through the birth canal in an unusual position. When these emergency situations are not properly diagnosed and treated, the health consequences can be severe.
Nerve damage resulting in Klumpke’s palsy is often caused by shoulder dystocia, a condition where a baby’s shoulder becomes stuck in the birth canal and excessive force is used to dislodge the baby. The risk of brachial plexus injury increases when the baby is large or the mother is small, or when the baby is in a breech position (exiting feet first).
Injury to the brachial plexus nerves may also cause Erb’s palsy, which affects the upper nerves and may show similar symptoms to Klumpke’s palsy.
Types of nerve damage leading to Klumpke’s palsy
The National Institute of Health outlines four types of brachial plexus injuries:
- Avulsion: the nerve is torn from the spine. This is the most severe type of injury, and there is no potential for recovery unless surgery is performed in a timely manner.
- Rupture: the nerve is torn but not at the spinal attachment. Surgery must quickly be performed for possible recovery.
- Neuroma: the nerve has torn and healed but scar tissue puts pressure on the injured nerve. This prevents it from conducting signals to the muscles. The injury may heal on its own, depending on the severity of the tear.
- Neuropraxiaor stretch: the nerve has been damaged but not torn. Neuropraxia is the most common type of brachial plexus injury, and most individuals will recover without intervention with a 90-100 percent return of function.
A child with even slight damage to the brachial plexus nerves can show signs of Klumpke’s palsy.
Symptoms and treatment of Klumpke’s palsy
Children suffering from Klumpke’s palsy will often have muscle and nerve problems that force their hands into a claw-like shape. Many affected children will also be unable to move their forearms, hands, or wrist flexors. Numbness in the spinal area can occur, and in some cases, children will have droopy eyelids (ptosis) and constituted pupils (miosis). This is known as Horner’s syndrome.
Mild cases of Klumpke’s palsy can be treated with regular massage of the affected area and exercise. In more severe cases, particularly when the nerves are torn from the spine, surgery may be required to revive the child’s motor functions. However, the best treatment for brachial plexus injury is prevention. Doctors should counsel high-risk mothers on their delivery options, as a C-section may be safest if the baby is abnormally large or the mother is small.
It is also important to note that brachial plexus injuries are often signs of negligence on behalf of the medical staff assisting with the child’s birth.
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Dr. Jack Tolliver is a successful physician and medical malpractice lawyer who understands the complexities of both hospitals and courtrooms.
If you know a child who may have suffered from Klumpke’s palsy, we encourage you to contact our firm and learn more. With our team’s medical experience, we can thoroughly and quickly review your case at no charge. If we accept your case, we will pursue maximum compensation. We never pass on costs and expenses if we do not recover damages.