In this review the authors address the surgical strategies required to resect residual thoracic disc herniations. Fifteen patients who had undergone prior thoracic discectomy and who harbored residual or incompletely excised symptomatic thoracic discs were reviewed retrospectively. The surgical procedures that had failed to excise the herniated discs completely included 11 posterolateral approaches, one thoracotomy, and three thoracoscopic procedures. Of the incompletely resected or residual disks 13 were central calcified, two were soft, 12 were extradural, and three were intradural discs. Indications for reoperation were often multiple in each patient and included misidentification of the level of disc disease at the initial operation (five cases), abandoning the procedure because of intraoperative spinal cord injury (three cases), inadequate visualization of the pathology (eight cases), migration of a soft disc fragment within the spinal canal (one case), and intradural disc extension (three cases). The symptoms at the time of reoperation included myelopathy in 13 patients and radicular pain in two. The mean interval before reoperation was 150 days (range 1 day-4 years). The reoperation procedures included one thoracotomy and 14 video-assisted thoracoscopic procedures performed ipsilateral (11 cases) or contralateral (four cases) to the site of the initial surgery.
The herniated disc material was excised completely in all 15 cases without causing new neurological deficits. Reoperation complications included atelectasis in three patients, intercostal neuralgia in two, a loosened screw that required removal in one, and a cerebrospinal fluid leak in one patient. Of the 13 patients who experienced myelopathy preoperatively, 10 recovered neurological function and three stabilized. All patients with radicular pain improved.
Calcified, large, broad-based, centrally located, or transdural thoracic disc herniations can be difficult to resect. These lesions require a ventral operative approach to visualize the dura adequately for a safe and complete resection.