Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

I had neck surgery to fuse my spine in two places. The surgeon did the operation from the front of my neck to avoid damaging my spinal canal and the nerves in my neck. Unfortunately I ended up with nerve damage and can hardly talk. I work as an auctioneer and really need my voice. How long does it take for this problem to clear up?

Answer:

Laryngeal nerve palsy or paralysis of the nerve to your vocal cords is usually a temporary problem after this type of surgery. You should regain the full use of your voice in the first few days. In some cases the temporary paralysis lasts much longer from days to weeks.

In a very small number of people permanent paralysis occurs. When the surgeon fuses the spine anteriorly the trachea and soft tissues of the neck must be moved gently out of the way. The doctor finds the laryngeal nerve and carefully moves it to the side to avoid cutting it when opening the neck.

In some people the nerve is hard to find and gets nicked during the incision. In another small group there is an extra branch of the nerve that is too small to see easily. If this gets cut but the main branch remains intact, then some partial paralysis occurs. In most cases the condition is usually temporary.

With nerve damage there's no quick and easy way to know what the long-term picture will be. It's usually a wait-and-see affair. First you wait and see if you are in the group that recovers in a day or two. If not, then you may expect recovery to occur in the first two weeks to two months after the operation. Permanent nerve damage can occur.

Claudius Thomé, MD, et al. A Prospective Randomized Comparison of Rectangular Titanium Cage Fusion and Iliac Crest Autograft Fusion in Patients Undergoing Anterior Cervical Discectomy. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. January 2006. Vol. 4. No. 1. Pp. 1-9.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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