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Nerve: Recurrent laryngeal nerve
POSTERIOR VIEW: The tracheobronchial lymph glands (I. and E. Recurrent nerves visible at top.)
Course and distribution of the glossopharyngeal, vagus, and accessory nerves.
Latin nervus laryngeus recurrens
Gray's subject #205 912
Innervates larynx
posterior cricoarytenoid
lateral cricoarytenoid
From vagus nerve
MeSH [1]

The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a branch of the vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve) that supplies motor function and sensation to the larynx (voice box).


It is referred to as "recurrent" because the branches of the nerve innervate the laryngeal muscles in the neck through a rather circuitous route: they descend down into the thorax before rising up between the trachea and esophagus to reach the neck.

The left branch loops under and around the arch of the aorta before ascending, whereas the right branch loops around the right subclavian artery.

The nerve splits into anterior and posterior rami before supplying muscles in the voice box — it supplies all laryngeal muscles except for the cricothyroid, which is innervated by the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve.

Clinical significance

The nerve is best known for its importance in thyroid surgery, as it runs immediately posterior to this gland. If it is damaged during surgery, the patient will have a hoarse voice. Nerve damage can be assessed by laryngoscopy, during which a stroboscopic light confirms the absence of movement in the affected side of the vocal cords.

Similar problems may also be due to invasion of the nerve by a tumor or after trauma to the neck.

  • If the damage is unilateral, the patient may present with voice changes including hoarseness.
  • Bilateral nerve damage can result in breathing difficulties and aphonia, the inability to speak.
  • The right recurrent laryngeal nerve is more susceptible to damage during thyroid surgery due to its relatively medial location.


Galen is said to have first described the clinical syndrome of recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis.

Additional images

External links

fr:Nerf laryngé récurrent
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