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Plast Reconstr Surg. 2007 Jun;119(7):2161-6.

Wilhelm Heinrich Erb, M.D. (1840 to 1921): a historical perspective on Erb's palsy.

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  • 1University of Michigan School of Medicine, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


Erb's palsy is well known to physicians across medical specialties, and its clinical manifestations present a formidable challenge to reconstructive surgeons. Although the condition is well established, knowledge pertaining to its namesake, Wilhelm Heinrich Erb, is rather obscure in the existing scientific literature. Erb was influential not only through his description of classic brachial plexus palsy involving the superior (or upper) roots, but also by his indelible contributions to our understanding of peripheral nerve physiology, deep tendon reflexes, and the muscular dystrophies. Erb's contributions to medicine transcend specialty boundaries. In this article, the authors seek to convey his scientific achievements and the character of the man through translation of his German manuscripts. These texts, complemented by the existing English literature, provide a unique perspective on Wilhelm Heinrich Erb's contribution to medicine. The authors will also emphasize his role in describing and clarifying the nature of Erb's palsy.

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