To determine risk factors for dysphagia after ventral rhizotomy, videofluoroscopic barium swallowing examinations were done on 41 spasmodic torticollis patients before and after surgery. Radiologic abnormalities were present in 68.3% of the patients before surgery, but these were only mildly abnormal in the majority. After surgery 95.1% showed radiologic abnormalities which were moderate or severe in one-third of the patients. Swallowing abnormalities correlated significantly with duration of torticollis and subjective complaints of swallowing difficulty both before and after surgery, but not with age, sex, or type of torticollis. The major acute postoperative finding was aggravation of preexisting pharyngeal dysfunction. Follow-up from about half of our original sample showed that gradual improvement occurred from 4 to 24 weeks after surgery by subjective report. We review the innervation of intrinsic and extrinsic pharyngeal musculature, and suggest that C1-3 rhizotomies and selective sectioning of the spinal accessory nerve are responsible for aggravation of pharyngeal swallowing dysfunction in the acute postsurgical period.