Cervicomedullary compression: An unrecognized cause of vocal cord paralysis in rheumatoid arthritis

Dana Thompson Link, Thomas V. McCaffrey, Michael J. Link, William E. Krauss, M. Troy Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Cervicomedullary compression (CMC) from traumatic, infectious, or congenital processes of the atlanto-axial joint is a known cause of vocal cord immobility. Cervicomedullary compression can also occur from destructive arthritic changes and inflammatory pannus formation at the occipito-atlanto- axial joint in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We present findings suggesting that CMC in patients with RA is an unrecognized cause of vocal cord immobility. Previously, vocal cord immobility in patients with RA has been assumed to be cricoarytenoid arthritis with joint fixation. We report 3 patients with RA and radiographically demonstrated CMC with vocal cord immobility. One patient had bilateral vocal cord immobility and airway obstruction; 2 patients had unilateral cord paralysis and contralateral paresis without airway compromise. All patients had myelopathy and neck pain in addition to brain stem symptoms. All patients underwent transoral- transpharyngeal decompression of the anterior craniocervical junction with subsequent posterior fusion. These patients demonstrated full return of vocal cord function within 3 months of decompression. We propose that CMC is a cause of vocal cord paralysis in patients with RA that may go unrecognized without appropriate imaging studies of the skull base and physician awareness of symptoms of occipito-atlanto-axial subluxation and/or basilar invagination with brain stem compression. Our results demonstrate that CMC in RA is a potentially reversible cause of vocal cord paralysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-471
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998


  • Basilar invagination
  • Cervicomedullary compression
  • Occipito-atlanto- axial joint subluxation
  • Odontoid process
  • Pannus formation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vocal cord paralysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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