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Paediatr Child Health. 2006 Feb;11(2):93-100.

Perinatal brachial plexus palsy.

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Departments of Pediatrics and.



Perinatal brachial plexus palsy (PBPP) is a flaccid paralysis of the arm at birth that affects different nerves of the brachial plexus supplied by C5 to T1 in 0.42 to 5.1 infants per 1000 live births.


To identify antenatal factors associated with PBPP and possible preventive measures, and to review the natural history as compared with the outcome after primary or secondary surgical interventions.


A literature search on randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses on the prevention and treatment of PBPP was performed. EMBASE, Medline, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library were searched until June 2005. Key words for searches included 'brachial plexus', 'brachial plexus neuropathy', 'brachial plexus injury', 'birth injury' and 'paralysis, obstetric'.


There were no prospective studies on the cause or prevention of PBPP. Whereas birth trauma is said to be the most common cause, there is some evidence that PBPP may occur before delivery. Shoulder dystocia and PBPP are largely unpredictable, although associations of PBPP with shoulder dystocia, infants who are large for gestational age, maternal diabetes and instrumental delivery have been reported. The various forms of PBPP, clinical findings and diagnostic measures are described. Recent evidence suggests that the natural history of PBPP is not all favourable, and residual deficits are estimated at 20% to 30%, in contrast with the previous optimistic view of full recovery in greater than 90% of affected children. There were no randomized controlled trials on nonoperative management. There was no conclusive evidence that primary surgical exploration of the brachial plexus supercedes conservative management for improved outcome. However, results from nonrandomized studies indicated that children with severe injuries do better with surgical repair. Secondary surgical reconstructions were inferior to primary intervention, but could still improve arm function in children with serious impairments.


It is not possible to predict which infants are at risk for PBPP, and therefore amenable to preventive measures. Twenty-five per cent of affected infants will experience permanent impairment and injury. If recovery is incomplete by the end of the first month, referral to a multidisciplinary team is necessary. Further research into prediction, prevention and best mode of treatment needs to be done.


Brachial plexus; Delivery; Fetus; Newborn; Palsy

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