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Treatments and Therapies for Birth Injuries

The after-effects of a birth injury are often devastating and permanent. However, the first few years of the life of a child affected by birth injuries such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, brachial plexus injuries, Erb’s palsy (a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm’s main nerves), or cerebral palsy (a group of permanent movement disorders caused by abnormal development or damage to different parts of the brain) are the most important to help decrease the long term effects of the physical and neurological damage caused by these conditions.

There are many different types of therapies available for children injured at birth. These can be broadly classified into three categories: surgical therapies, therapeutic medication, and interactive therapies.

Surgical therapies can be helpful in correcting the effects of brachial plexus injures and cerebral palsy. Common surgical interventions that may help children with these birth injuries include vision and hearing correction, surgery to loosen tight muscles, bone curvature correction, compensation for uneven muscle or bone growth, severing unnecessary nerve roots, correcting limb positions, reducing spasticity and tremors, facilitating more normalized sitting or walking, and the use of artificial limbs.

Adequate nutrition is also extremely important for children affected by birth injuries. Cerebral palsy can be caused by or create metabolic disorders that can impact growth and nutrition. Children diagnosed with cerebral palsy may have problems with gastric reflux and may require stomach surgery to assist with feeding, digestion, bladder, and bowel function; however a feeding tube inserted into the stomach through the nose is one of the most common non-surgical therapies. Other common therapeutic surgical measures for children with gastric reflux include inserting a feeding tube through the abdominal wall and Nissen Fundoplication, where the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus and stitched in place to prevent the reflux of gastric acid.

Medications are often used to calm the effects of heightened muscle tone (spasticity or convulsions) associated with cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy. Common medications to help with these conditions include Keppra, Topamax, Valium, Baclofen, Flexeril, Lamictal, Zonegran, and Neurontin. Experimental studies have been conducted with Botox to treat spasms as well. Steroids (like predisone) are also sometimes used to help with inflammation.

Speech therapy can also help children with cerebral palsy. Physical and occupational therapies can assist with movement, tone, coordination, balance, and day to day skills for children with cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy. Early intervention services and non-profit organizations such as Easter Seals and United Cerebral Palsy are great resources for parents who feel that they need help navigating the often difficult process of negotiating these therapies.

Alternative therapies treating children affected by cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy have become more common in the past decade. Aqua therapy for movement, equine therapy for core strength, balance, and coordination, as well as acupuncture have been helpful in assisting children affected by cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy as a result of a birth injury.

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