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February 1993

The 11th Nerve Syndrome: Accessory Nerve Palsy or Adhesive Capsulitis?

Author Affiliations

From the Shoulder Disability Laboratory (Ms Patten), Seattle (Wash) Veterans Hospital (Dr Hillel), and the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University of Washington (Dr Hillel), Seattle.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1993;119(2):215-220. doi:10.1001/archotol.1993.01880140105016

• The 11th nerve syndrome classically involves the majority of patients undergoing neck dissections even when the accessory nerve is preserved. A preliminary analysis of our data of 31 of 44 patients who underwent neck dissections from a prospective study showed numerous findings of shoulder disability that are not attributable to accessory nerve palsy but are well described by the syndrome of adhesive capsulitis of the glenohumeral joint. At 1 month postoperatively, although accessory nerve palsy symptoms were common, adhesive capsulitis symptoms were significant. At 6 months, the frequency of accessory nerve palsy symptoms was less as the accessory nerve had begun to recover. At 12 and 18 months, when most of the accessory nerves had recovered, the accessory nerve palsy symptoms were comparatively uncommon while the adhesive capsulitis symptoms predominated as the remaining symptoms of the 11th nerve syndrome. We propose that adhesive capsulitis is a principal component of the 11th nerve syndrome that can significantly compound the morbidity of a neck dissection even when the accessory nerve recovers. We also propose that adhesive capsulitis accounts for the persistence and variability of shoulder symptoms after neck dissection that cannot be attributed to trapezius muscle dysfunction.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1993;119:215-220)