Exercising with a Child Who Has Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy is a birth injury that limits a child’s ability to use the affected shoulder, arm and hand in a “typical” capacity. Medical professionals may advise a course of treatment that includes daily at-home exercises and prescribed movements. These are intended to help the child regain mobility, prevent atrophy and promote healing.

Surgery may be necessary if physical therapy fails to remedy the problem. Even with surgery, a child with Erb’s palsy may experience lifelong physical limitations in the affected arm.

Parents who believe a doctor’s or hospital’s mistake caused their child’s Erb’s palsy may have the option to pursue compensation. A civil claim or lawsuit seeks to secure financial resources to aid a child’s recovery. This may mean regular physical and occupational therapy, surgery and postoperative treatment.

Exercise Options for a Child with Erb’s Palsy: The Early Stages

Many medical experts recommend beginning treatment of Erb’s palsy as soon as possible. The child’s doctor may begin by providing basic guidelines for how to protect the child from additional injury. This can include instructions on how to dress, bathe, lift and hold the child properly to prevent aggravating the injury.

After a few weeks, a physician or physical therapist may recommend a course of at-home treatments and exercises. A typical at-home routine may include:

  • non-invasive/gentle physical therapy options (such as gently moving the affected joints in the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers to prevent joints from becoming stiff);
  • gentle stretching;
  • play therapy (may include basic exercises like encouraging a child to reach for a toy or using toys and improve coordination by manipulating toys or other safe items); and
  • basic arm and shoulder exercises (these include movements to encourage range of motion and to prevent atrophy and muscle degradation).



The child’s doctor may call for regular appointments with a qualified physical therapist experienced in treating newborns with Erb’s palsy. The doctor or physical therapist may give parents special devices or other adaptive equipment to assist in exercise and other movements.

A child should have regular appointments with a physician to better assess his or her healing. Note that each child requires individualized care, and no two patients are exactly alike.

Options for a Child with Erb’s Palsy: At the Three- to Six-Month Mark

Surgery may be necessary if physical therapy and the passage of time have not sufficiently resolved the injury. There is no clear-cut timeline for recovery, but doctors may call for surgery several months after a child is born. Surgery may restore some strength, movement and control to the affected arm and hand. It does not, however, guarantee a full recovery.

A child who undergoes surgery to treat Erb’s palsy will require postoperative physical and occupational therapy. Parents can help promote healing and recovery at home by encouraging a child to be active and participate in sports and athletics.