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December 29, 2013

How Long Do Swallowing and Voice Problems Last After C-Spine Surgery ACDF?

I often see patients for swallowing and/or voice difficulties after cervical spine surgery (ACDF). In the vast majority of cases, reassurance that such "side effects" are not uncommon is the only thing I need to provide after a complete exam.

After all, both the voice box and swallowing tube are manipulated and pushed over to one side in order to perform cervical spine surgery from an anterior approach. Check out the video below that illustrates how this happens.

Beyond reassurance, the next question patients have is how long before things go back to normal. Until now, that was a hard question to answer.

A recent report was able to provide some numbers I can now use to help explain to patients. After anterior approaches to cervical spine surgery:

• 60% had a postoperative issue, including 27% with postoperative voice complaint and 48% with postoperative swallowing complaint
Swallowing complaints that lasted beyond 1 year occurred in 28%
• Voice complaints that lasted over 1 year occurred in 9%
• Approaching spinal levels above C4 and exposing more than 3 spinal levels were 2 factors that significantly resulted in voice and swallowing problems

In certain patients with more extreme swallowing difficulties, barium swallow studies may be ordered. Swallow therapy can be helpful as well.

Should vocal cord paralysis be seen on endoscopy, voice therapy and even vocal cord medialization injections can be performed to alleviate voice problems.

Factors Predictive of Voice and Swallowing Outcomes after Anterior Approaches to the Cervical Spine. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013 Dec 23. [Epub ahead of print]

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids. Google+ Christopher Chang, MD Bio

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VIDEO: How Does the Human Voicebox Work?