The authors introduce a novel technique to treat thoracic myelopathy caused by ossification of the ligamentum flavum (OLF): upper facet joint en bloc resection. This surgical procedure avoids surgery to the most heavily compressed cord surface, contact with the cord, and cord injury. The epidural venous plexus bleeding point can be directly seen and easily controlled during the decompression.
Between January 2007 and January 2009, thoracic myelopathy caused by OLF was diagnosed in 38 patients using plain radiography, CT, and MRI, and diagnoses were confirmed by postoperative pathological examination. All upper facet joint en bloc resection procedures were performed in 2 steps. First, the bony structures above the upper facet joint surfaces were resected and the upper facet joints were isolated. Second, en bloc resection of the upper facet joint was performed by dissection of the junction between the pedicle and upper facet joint. Intraoperative neurological monitoring was performed in all cases. The modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association (mJOA) scoring system was used to assess neurological status. The degree of postoperative expansion of the spinal cord was calculated on axial MR images. The pre- and postdecompression Cobb angle was applied to assess the magnitude of local kyphosis.
Of the 38 cases of OLF, 6 were single level, 12 were double level, and 20 were multilevel. Of the 92 ossified segments in this study, 23 (25.0%) were located in the upper thoracic spine (T1–4), 13 (14.1%) were located in the midthoracic spine (T5–8), and 56 (60.9%) were located in the lower thoracic spine (T9–L1). The mean intraoperative blood loss was 340 ± 54 ml. The neurological status improved during follow-up (mean 46.1 months) from a preoperative mean mJOA score of 5.39 ± 1.52 to 8.97 ± 1.22 points (t = 18.39, p < 0.05). The neurological function recovery rate ranged from 28.6% to 100%. The mean increase in pre- and postoperative kyphosis of the involved vertebrae was only 1.3° ± 1.6°. The increase in the cross-sectional area of the dural sac at the level of maximum compression suggested that decompression was complete.
Upper facet joint en bloc resection is effective and may be a reasonable alternative treatment choice for thoracic myelopathy caused by OLF.