Brachial Plexus Injury (BPI) is a nerve injury, normally caused at birth by constrictions during natural delivery called shoulder dystocia. The brachial plexus is simply a group of nerves that work together to move your shoulder, arm and hand, and can affect your neck as well. This may occur when the infant’s arm or neck is pulled out forcefully in an attempt to get him or her out as quickly as possible. Usually, the nerves are separated from the spinal cord (avulsion) or overstretched (neuropraxia).
In my case, this was exactly what happened. Forceps were illegally used twice in order to pull me out; at the time, in 1989, they could only legally be used once. In turn, the nerves C5-8 and T1 were overstretched and the only part of my upper left extremity that I could move was my thumb. I was quickly diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy1 and Klumpke’s Palsy2, which can be generally referred to as BPI, due to neuropraxia.
Thankfully, my parents were very proactive and, at nine days old, I began physical therapy. It was important that my arm was moved many times throughout the day in order to “reteach” the nerves. Within the first two years of a baby’s life, it’s possible that the nerves can fully recover. However, for most of us, this is a life-long process of improving and maintaining function.
*This injury can be caused by other situations as well. Car or motorcycle accidents can be causes, for example.
To learn more in-depth, scientific information about BPI, please see these links:
1Erb’s Palsy: upper part of the brachial plexus has been affected (nerves C5-C6)
2Klumpke’s Palsy: lower part of the brachial plexus has been affected (nerves C8-T1)