An audit into the incidence of handicap after unilateral radical neck dissection

J Laryngol Otol. 1991 Sep;105(9):760-2. doi: 10.1017/s0022215100117232.


Forty-six patients who had undergone a radical neck dissection more than six months previously were assessed to determine the degree of handicap that results from division of the accessory nerve. Employment problems, amount of pain, and social and recreational difficulties were assessed. Forty-six per cent of those in employment prior to their operation gave up their work specifically because of problems with their shoulder; this affected more manual than non-manual workers (11 out of 20 manual compared with zero out of four non-manual). Thirty per cent complained of moderately severe or severe pain related to the shoulder. The amount of pain could not be correlated with age, sex, side of operation in relation to handedness, physical build of the patient, or whether the patient had been treated with radiotherapy. Although this is the largest study to address this question since that of Ewing and Martin in 1952, the small numbers involved mean that if any such correlation exists then it may not have become apparent. In view of this incidence of pain and occupational handicap, we feel that efforts should be made to preserve accessory nerve function in cases where surgical clearance of the tumour field is not compromised as a result.

MeSH terms

  • Accessory Nerve / surgery
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Dissection / adverse effects*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Quality of Life
  • Shoulder