When I was a medical student in the early 1990s, I learned some things that still stick out in my mind. Believe it or not, the brachial plexus is one of them. I had never heard of it then and was surprised to discover that such an important bundle of nerves runs through the armpit, of all places.
The brachial plexus is made up of four cranial nerves (C5, C6, C7, and C8) and one thoracic cranial nerve (T1) from the neck. It provides nerve coverage for movement (motor function) and sensation to the upper extremity, including parts of the chest, and the shoulders, arms, and hands.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, a brachial plexus injury can occur when an arm is forcibly pulled or stretched.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I’ve handled cases where adults developed a brachial plexus injury during shoulder surgery. I’ve also handled brachial plexus cases involving babies.
When it comes to brachial plexus injuries in newborns, they can happen the same way, often when the OB/GYN physician, midwife, or nurse uses too much force to get the baby out during delivery. In my experience, newborn brachial plexus injuries are more common when the providers are having difficulty delivering the baby vaginally and resort to using forceps or vacuum extraction.
A related type of injury is shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s head is delivered but the front of the shoulder gets stuck above the mom’s pubic bone.
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Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas.