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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Sep;86(9):1884-90.

Surgical management of trapezius palsy.

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Department of Orthopaedics, Hôpital Lariboisière, Paris, France.



Injury to the spinal accessory nerve in the posterior cervical triangle leads to paralysis of the trapezius muscle. The aim of this study was to determine the indications for nerve repair or reconstructive surgery according to the etiology, the duration of the preoperative delay, and specific patient characteristics.


Of twenty-seven patients with a trapezius palsy, twenty were treated with neurolysis or surgical repair (direct or with a graft) of the spinal accessory nerve and seven were treated with the Eden-Lange muscle transfer procedure. Lymph node biopsy was the main cause of the nerve injury. The nerve repairs were performed at an average of seven months after the injury, and the reconstructive procedures were done at an average of twenty-eight months. Nerve repair was performed for iatrogenic injuries of the spinal accessory nerve, within twenty months after the onset of symptoms, and in one patient with spontaneous palsy. Reconstructive surgery was performed for cases of trapezius palsy secondary to radical neck dissection, for spontaneous palsies, and after failure of nerve repair or neurolysis. The mean follow-up period was thirty-five months. The functional outcome was assessed clinically on the basis of active shoulder abduction, pain, strength of the trapezius on manual muscle-testing, and level of subjective patient satisfaction.


The results were good or excellent in sixteen of the twenty patients treated with nerve repair and in four of the seven patients treated with the Eden-Lange procedure. Poor results were seen in older patients and in patients with a previous radical neck dissection.


Good results can be expected from a repair of the spinal accessory nerve if it is performed within twenty months after the injury, as the nerve is basically a purely motor nerve and the distance from the injury to the motor end plates is short. Muscle transfer should be performed in patients with spontaneous trapezius palsy, when previous nerve surgery has failed, or when the time from the injury to treatment is over twenty months. Treatment is less likely to succeed when the patient is older than fifty years of age or the palsy was due to a radical neck dissection, penetrating injury, or spontaneous palsy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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