J Korean Neurosurg Soc.  2010 Nov;48(5):406-411. 10.3340/jkns.2010.48.5.406.

Hypopharyngeal Wall Exposure within the Surgical Field : The Role of Axial Rotation of the Thyroid Cartilage during Anterior Cervical Surgery

  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, Pusan National University, Busan, Korea.
  • 2Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, Pusan National University, Busan, Korea. hakjink@pusan.ac.kr
  • 3Department of Statistics, Pusan National University, Busan, Korea.


Esophageal/hypopharyngeal injury can be a disastrous complication of anterior cervical surgery. The amount of hypopharyngeal wall exposure within the surgical field has not been studied. The objective of this study is to evaluate the chance of hypopharyngeal wall exposure by measuring the amount of axial rotation of the thyroid cartilage (ARTC) and posterior projection of the hypopharynx (PPH).
The study was prospectively designed using intraoperative ultrasonography. We measured the amount of ARTC in 27 cases. The amount of posterior projection of the hypopharynx (PPH) also was measured on pre-operative CT and compared at three different levels; the superior border of the thyroid cartilage (SBTC), cricoarytenoid joint and tip of inferior horn of the thyroid cartilage (TIHTC). The presence of air density was also checked on the same levels.
The angle of ARTC ranged from -6.9degrees to 29.7degrees, with no statistical difference between the upper and lower cervical group. The amount of PPH was increased caudally. Air densities were observed in 26 cases at the SBTC, but none at the TIHTC.
Within the confines of the thyroid cartilage, surgeons are required to pay more attention to the status of hypopharynx/esophagus near the inferior horn of the thyroid cartilage. The hypopharynx/esophagus at the TIHTC is more likely to be exposed than at the upper and middle part of the thyroid cartilage, which may increase the risk of injury by pressure. Surgeons should be aware of the fact that the visceral component at C6-T1 surgeries also rotates as much as when the thyroid cartilage is engaged with a retractor. The esophagus at lower cervical levels warrants more careful retraction because it is not protected by the thyroid cartilage.


Anterior cervical surgery; Thyroid cartilage; Hypopharynx; Esophageal injury

MeSH Terms

Prospective Studies
Thyroid Cartilage
Thyroid Gland
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