Diagnostics, Vol. 10, Pages 670: Anatomical Variations of the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve and Implications for Injury Prevention during Surgical Procedures of the Neck

Research paper by Alison M. Thomas, Daniel K. Fahim, Jickssa M. Gemechu

Indexed on: 07 Sep '20Published on: 04 Sep '20Published in: Diagnostics (Basel, Switzerland)


Accurate knowledge of anatomical variations of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) provides information to prevent inadvertent intraoperative injury and ultimately guide best clinical and surgical practices. The present study aims to assess the potential anatomical variability of RLN pertaining to its course, branching pattern, and relationship to the inferior thyroid artery, which makes it vulnerable during surgical procedures of the neck. Fifty-five formalin-fixed cadavers were carefully dissected and examined, with the course of the RLN carefully evaluated and documented bilaterally. Our findings indicate that extra-laryngeal branches coming off the RLN on both the right and left side innervate the esophagus, trachea, and mainly intrinsic laryngeal muscles. On the right side, 89.1% of the cadavers demonstrated 2–5 extra-laryngeal branches. On the left, 74.6% of the cadavers demonstrated 2–3 extra-laryngeal branches. In relation to the inferior thyroid artery (ITA), 67.9% of right RLNs were located anteriorly, while 32.1% were located posteriorly. On the other hand, 32.1% of left RLNs were anterior to the ITA, while 67.9% were related posteriorly. On both sides, 3–5% of RLN crossed in between the branches of the ITA. Anatomical consideration of the variations in the course, branching pattern, and relationship of the RLNs is essential to minimize complications associated with surgical procedures of the neck, especially thyroidectomy and anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery. The information gained in this study emphasizes the need to preferentially utilize left-sided approaches for ACDF surgery whenever possible.