BACKGROUND The Zuckerkandl's tubercle (ZT) of the thyroid gland is a well-described anatomical landmark, but few studies have clearly defined its association with pressure symptoms. METHODS Sixty-six consecutive patients who had primary thyroid surgery were prospectively included in the present study between late January and early August 1998. RESULTS A total of 96 capsular dissections were performed at thyroid surgery. Grades two and three ZT were recognized in 77 (80.2%) dissections. In general 49 (63.6%) of them were associated with significant pressure symptoms. In 43 (87.8%) of the dissections with pressure symptoms, grade 3 ZT was observed (mean weight of goitre: 154.8 g). Interestingly in this group, 16 (37.2%) patients with pressure symptoms had a goitre that was < 100 g and in one patient it was only 21 g. CONCLUSIONS The pressure symptom of the thyroid gland does not always appear to be due to the large size of the goitre. In a relatively small-size goitre the ZT may cause significant pressure symptoms. Observations in the present study supported a strong association of enlarged ZT with pressure symptoms. We believe this is unlikely to be simply a coincidence but rather a consequence of the enlarged tubercle. Nonetheless a prospective randomized study is called for to allow meaningful and objective evidence to be drawn.