Expanding what is known of the anatomy of the spinal accessory nerve


Restrepo, C.E., Tubbs, R.S., Spinner, R.J., 2015. Expanding what is known of the anatomy of the spinal accessory nerve. Clin Anat 28, 467–471. doi:10.1002/ca.22492


The spinal accessory nerve (SAN) is classically considered a motor nerve innervating the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. Its anatomical relevance derives from the high prevalence of lesions following head and neck surgeries. As expected, trapezius weakness and atrophy are the most common findings; however, it is also commonly accompanied by pain and other sensory deficits that have no clear explanation, suggesting other functions. We have recently seen two patients presenting with an unrecognized sign, that is, subclavicular/pectoral asymmetry secondary to the SAN lesion. Retrospectively, we reviewed other patients with similar findings in our case series and in the literature. We discuss the anatomical connections of the SAN with the superficial cervical plexus and propose an explanation for this finding. Of the 41 patients in our series, we identified this sign in all who had preoperative photographs. New insights on the anatomy and connections of the SAN may account for the diversity of symptoms and signs presented following an operative intervention as well as the variability of its severity.

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