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Psychological Cost of Erb's Palsy

Posted on 19th October 2022 in Medical Negligence

Posted by

Clair Hemming

Partner and Solicitor
Psychological Cost of Erb's Palsy

Erb’s palsy is a disability of the arm, shoulder and hand which arises through nerve damage usually at birth.

Not everyone will have an emotional or psychological consequence as a result of having Erb’s palsy, but many do, and it can be hidden below the surface.

As an individual with Erb’s palsy the impact will differ to a greater or lesser degree, but the psychological cost of the disability on the individual can include:

  • Sadness
  • Heightened self-consciousness
  • Low self-esteem/confidence
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts

The psychological consequences are not always proportionate to the degree of disability and can significantly impact upon health and wellbeing, education, relationships and employment.


Meet Matthew – aged 20 yearsDay 3

Matthew has a grade II injury to his right side at birth affecting C5,6,7,8 of the brachial plexus.    At 20 years of age his condition will not improve, but it could worsen unless he works hard to maintain it.  He has significant tightness and dysfunction around the shoulder with extremely limited movement particularly in term of rotation.  In addition, he has a fixed flexion deformity at the elbow, so he is unable to straighten it.  He has ongoing pain and discomfort.

As a teenager Matthew was diagnosed with a chronic Generalised Anxiety Disorder with significant post traumatic elements associated with low mood which was caused by his Erb’s Palsy. This undermined his concentration and caused distraction and so had a significant impact on his attainment in the educational setting. Matthew had the constant reminder that he could not do things the same way as his peers, and it was the school environment which really brought home to Matthew the limitations and reinforced his sense of difference. Tasks at school took longer, caused self-consciousness and considerable apprehension due to fears about whether he would be able to do a task.  Although Matthew’s underlying intellectual ability was not affected, the injury had affected his ability to put this to good use.

Things came to ahead for Matthew after his GCSEs and although he started his A Levels, he completely lost motivation. Matthew reported that he felt like he had hit rock bottom, he did not want to go out of the home, he wasn’t eating or sleeping and even had suicidal thoughts.  Matthew had these feelings for the best part of a year but somehow, he was able to push through and re-gain his motivation.  He realised that school was not for him and through his unyielding determination and the support of his family he was able to secure an apprenticeship in manual work.   This presented its own obstacles given his physical limitations and pain but with the help of a therapy package, he not only managed but is making great progress in his chosen career.


How can I get help?

Please visit our website here for more information on Erb's Palsy.

Click here to see a video on 'Erb's Palsy: Better Care Costs Less' by PROMPT Maternity Foundation.

For support with the condition please contact the Erb’s Palsy Group at here.

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