Iatrogenic injuries to the spinal accessory nerve (SAN) are not uncommon during lymph node biopsy of the posterior cervical triangle (PCT). In this study, the authors review the operative techniques and surgical outcomes of 156 surgical repairs of the SAN following iatrogenic injury during lymph node biopsy procedures.
This retrospective study examines the authors’ clinical and surgical experience with 156 patients with SAN injury between 1980 and 2012. All patients suffered iatrogenic SAN injuries during lymph node biopsy, with the vast majority (154/156, 98.7%) occurring in Zone I of the PCT. Surgery was performed on the basis of anatomical and electro-physiological findings at the time of the operation. The mean follow-up period was 24 months (range 8–44 months).
Of the 123 patients who underwent graft or suture repair, 107 patients (87%) improved to Grade 3 functionality or higher using the Louisiana State University Health Science Center (LSUHSC) grading system. Neurolysis was performed in 29 patients (19%) when the nerve was found in continuity with recordable nerve action potential (NAP) across the lesion. More than 95% of patients treated by neurolysis with positive NAP recordings recovered to LSUHSC Grade 3 or higher. Forty-one patients (26%) underwent end-to-end repair, while 82 patients (53%) underwent graft repair, and Grade 3 or higher recovery was assessed for 90% and 85% of these patients, respectively. The average graft length used was 3.81 cm. Neurotization was performed in 4 patients, 2 of whom recovered to Grade 2 and 3, respectively.
SAN injuries present challenges for surgical exploration and repair because of the nerve’s size and location in the PCT. However, through proper and timely intervention, patients with diminished or absent function achieved favorable functional outcomes. Surgeons performing lymph node biopsy procedures in Zone I of the PCT should be aware of the potential risk of injury to the SAN.