Injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve will affect the muscles of the larynx. Its impact will depend on the severity of the nerve injury and whether it is unilateral or bilateral.


Injury to a recurrent laryngeal nerve will affect all of the muscles of the larynx except for the cricothyroid, which is supplied by the superior laryngeal nerve.


A complete injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve will cause the vocal cord on the affected side to become adducted to the midline. If both recurrent laryngeal nerves are damaged then the airway may become obstructed.

Clinical Finding




no change or transient hoarseness

preserved but hoarse

signs of airway obstruction


stridor and/or dyspnea

need for tracheostomy


if airway obstruction severe


Over time the affected vocal cord will tend to abduct a bit, which will alleviate any obstruction to the airway.


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