The natural history of recoverable vocal fold paralysis: Implications for kinetics of reinnervation

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33 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: Patients with unilateral vocal fold paralysis (UVFP) are commonly told to wait 12 months for spontaneous recovery. This study aims to 1) determine the time to vocal recovery in UVFP, 2) use that data to develop a neurophysiologically plausible model for recovery, and 3) use the model to generate meaningful predictions for patient counseling. Study Design: Case series with de novo mathematical modeling. Methods: Patients with UVFP who could pinpoint a discrete onset of vocal improvement were identified. The time-to-recovery data were modeled by assuming an “early” recovery group with neuropraxia and a “late” recovery group with more severe nerve injury. For the late group, a two-stage model was developed to explain the time to recovery: regenerating axons must cross the site of injury in stage 1 (probabilistic), followed by unimpeded regrowth to the larynx in stage 2 (deterministic). Results: Of 727 cases of UVFP over a 7-year period, 44 reported spontaneous recovery with a discrete onset of vocal improvement. A hybrid distribution incorporating the two stages (exponentially modified Gaussian) accurately modeled the time-to-recovery data (R2 = 0.918). The model predicts 86% of patients with recoverable UVFP will recover within 6 months, with 96% recovering within 9 months. Earlier vocal recovery is associated with recovery of vocal fold motion and younger age. Conclusions: Waiting 12 months for spontaneous recovery is probably too conservative. Repair across the site of injury, and not regrowth to larynx, is likely the rate-determining step in reinnervation, consistent with other works on peripheral nerve regeneration. Level of Evidence: 4. Laryngoscope, 127:2585–2590, 2017.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2585-2590
Number of pages6
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Laryngeal reinnervation
  • ex-Gaussian
  • peripheral nerve regeneration
  • recurrent laryngeal nerve
  • vocal fold paralysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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