Reinnervation of the paralyzed diaphragm: application of nerve surgery techniques following unilateral phrenic nerve injury

Chest. 2011 Jul;140(1):191-197. doi: 10.1378/chest.10-2765. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


Background: Unilateral phrenic nerve injury often results in symptomatic hemidiaphragm paralysis, and currently few treatment options exist. Reported etiologies include cardiac surgery, neck surgery, chiropractic manipulation, and interscalene nerve blocks. Although diaphragmatic plication has been an option for treatment, the ideal treatment would be restoration of function to the paralyzed hemidiaphragm. The application of peripheral nerve surgery techniques for phrenic nerve injuries has not been adequately evaluated.

Methods: Twelve patients presenting with long-term, symptomatic, unilateral phrenic nerve injuries following surgery, chiropractic manipulation, trauma, or anesthetic blocks underwent a comprehensive evaluation, including radiographic and electrophysiologic assessments. Surgical treatment was offered following a minimum of 6 months of conservative management. Operative planning was based on preoperative and intraoperative testing using one or more established nerve reconstruction techniques (neurolysis, interpositional grafting, or neurotization).

Results: Measures of postoperative improvement included pulmonary function testing, fluoroscopic sniff testing, and a standardized quality-of-life survey, from which it was determined that eight of nine patients who could be completely evaluated experienced improvements in diaphragmatic function.

Conclusions: Based on the favorable results in this small series, we suggest expanding nerve reconstruction techniques to phrenic nerve injury treatment and propose an algorithm for treatment of unilateral phrenic nerve injury that may expand the current limitations in therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diaphragm / innervation*
  • Diaphragm / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods*
  • Phrenic Nerve / injuries*
  • Phrenic Nerve / surgery
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / methods*
  • Quality of Life
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Respiratory Paralysis / etiology
  • Respiratory Paralysis / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Paralysis / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome