Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Injury With Anterior Cervical Spine Surgery: Risk With Laterality of Surgical Approach

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Study Design.

A detailed review of anterior cervical fusion procedures from a university-based spine specialty service was completed. Noted were the laterality of approach, number of levels, discectomy or corpectomy, use of instrumentation, and cases of reoperation.


The primary purpose of the study is to determine whether there is in fact a greater risk of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injury with approach on the right or left side. Also evaluated is the risk with corpectomy, reoperative procedures, and instrumentation.


Anatomic considerations have been used as justification to determine the side of surgical approach. However, few clinical studies have delineated the side of surgical approach in their results.


A total of 328 anterior cervical spine fusion procedures completed between 1989 and 1999 were reviewed. All speech changes reported were noted throughout follow-up.


There were 187 anterior discectomy and 141 corpectomy procedures. There were 21 reoperative anterior fusions. There were 173 procedures completed from the right side and 155 from the left. There were nine patients documented to have dysphonia after surgery. Five had a left-sided approach and four had a right-sided approach.


The incidence of RLN symptoms after surgery was 2.7% (9 of 328). The incidence of RLN symptoms was 2.1% with anterior cervical discectomy, 3.5% with corpectomy (5 of 141), 3% with instrumentation (8 of 237), and 9.5% with reoperative anterior surgery (2 of 21). There was a significant increase in the rate of injury with reoperative anterior fusion. There was no association between the side of approach and the incidence of RLN symptoms.

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