Phrenic nerve paralysis and phrenic nerve reconstruction surgery

Handb Clin Neurol. 2022:189:271-292. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-323-91532-8.00003-3.


Phrenic nerve injury results in paralysis of the diaphragm muscle, the primary generator of an inspiratory effort, as well as a stabilizing muscle involved in postural control and spinal alignment. Unilateral deficits often result in exertional dyspnea, orthopnea, and sleep-disordered breathing, whereas oxygen or ventilator dependency can occur with bilateral paralysis. Common etiologies of phrenic injuries include cervical trauma, iatrogenic injury in the neck or chest, and neuralgic amyotrophy. Many patients have no identifiable etiology and are considered to have idiopathic paralysis. Diagnostic evaluation requires radiographic and pulmonary function testing, as well as electrodiagnostic assessment to quantitate the nerve deficit and determine the extent of denervation atrophy. Treatment for symptomatic diaphragm paralysis has traditionally been limited. Medical therapies and nocturnal positive airway pressure may provide some benefit. Surgical repair of the nerve injury to restore functional diaphragmatic activity, termed phrenic nerve reconstruction, is a safe and effective alternative to static repositioning of the diaphragm (diaphragm plication), in properly selected patients. Phrenic nerve reconstruction has increasingly become a standard surgical treatment for diaphragm paralysis due to phrenic nerve injury. A multidisciplinary approach at specialty referral centers combining diagnostic evaluation, surgical treatment, and rehabilitation is required to achieve optimal long-term outcomes.

Keywords: Cervical tetraplegia; Diaphragm paralysis; Diaphragm plication; Phrenic nerve injury; Phrenic nerve reconstruction; Phrenic neurolysis; Phrenic neurotization; Ventilator dependency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diaphragm
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Paralysis
  • Phrenic Nerve
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures*
  • Respiratory Paralysis*