A number of operative techniques have been described for the treatment of herniated thoracic discs. The transfacet pedicle-sparing approach allows for complete disc removal with limited spinal column disruption and soft-tissue dissection. Fifteen cadaveric spinal columns were used for evaluation of exposure, development of thoracic microdiscectomy instrumentation, and establishment of morphometric measurements. This approach was used to remove eight thoracic discs in six patients. Levels of herniation ranged from T-7 through T-11. Preoperatively, all patients had moderate to severe axial pain, and three (50%) of the six had radicular pain. Myelopathy was present in four (67%) of the six patients. Through a 4-cm opening, the ipsilateral paraspinal muscles were reflected, and a partial facetectomy was performed. The disc was then removed using specially designed microscopic instrumentation. Postoperatively, the radiculopathy resolved in all patients. Axial pain and myelopathy were completely resolved or significantly improved in all patients.
The minimal amount of bone resection and muscle dissection involved in the operation allows for: 1) decreased operative time and blood loss; 2) diminished perioperative pain; 3) shorter hospitalization time and faster return to premorbid activity; 4) avoidance of closed chest tube drainage; and 5) preservation of the integrity of the facet-pedicle complex, with potential for improvement in outcome related to axial pain. This technique appears best suited for the removal of all centrolateral discs, although it has been used successfully for treating a disc occupying nearly the entire ventral canal. The initial experience suggests that this approach may be used to safely remove appropriately selected thoracic disc herniations with good results.