Immediate Intraoperative Repair of the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve in Thyroid Surgery

Laryngoscope. 2021 Jun;131(6):1429-1435. doi: 10.1002/lary.29204. Epub 2020 Oct 29.


Objectives: Recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injury is a recognized risk during thyroid and parathyroid surgery and can result in significant morbidity. The aim of this review paper is to consider the optimal approach to the immediate intraoperative repair of the RLN during thyroid surgery.

Methods: A PubMed literature search was performed from inception to June 2020 using the following search strategy: immediate repair or repair recurrent laryngeal nerve, repair or reinnervation recurrent laryngeal nerve and immediate neurorraphy or neurorraphy recurrent laryngeal nerve.

Results: Methods of immediate intraoperative repair of the RLN include direct end-to-end anastomosis, free nerve graft anastomosis, ansa cervicalis to RLN anastomosis, vagus to RLN anastomosis, and primary interposition graft. Techniques of nerve repair include micro-suturing, use of fibrin glue, and nerve grafting. Direct micro-suture is preferable when the defect can be repaired without tension. Fibrin glue has also been proposed for nerve repair but has been criticized for its toxicity, excessive slow reabsorption, and the risk of inflammatory reaction in the peripheral tissues. When the proximal stump of the RLN cannot be used, grafting could be done using transverse cervical nerve, supraclavicular nerve, vagus nerve, or ansa cervicalis.

Conclusions: Current evidence is low-level; however, it suggests that when the RLN has been severed, avulsed, or sacrificed during thyroid surgery it should be repaired intraoperatively. The immediate repair has on balance more advantages than disadvantages and should be considered whenever possible. This should enable the maintenance of vocal cord tone, better and prompter voice recovery and avoidance of aspiration. Laryngoscope, 131:1429-1435, 2021.

Keywords: Thyroidectomy; ansa cervicalis; intraoperative repair; recurrent laryngeal nerve.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anastomosis, Surgical
  • Cervical Plexus / surgery
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Care / methods*
  • Intraoperative Complications / etiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / surgery*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods*
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / methods*
  • Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve / surgery
  • Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Injuries / etiology
  • Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Injuries / surgery*
  • Thyroid Gland / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vagus Nerve / surgery