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Cynthia B. Piccirilli, Christopher I. Shaffrey, Jacob N. Young and LaVerne R. Lovell

Endoscopic carpal tunnel release is increasingly performed to treat median nerve entrapment neuropathy at the transverse carpal ligament. Proponents of these procedures claim that there are early postoperative advantages to be gained by the patient in the form of decreased pain and weakness, thus facilitating an earlier return to function. However, serious complications associated with the use of these techniques have been reported, especially during the surgeon's purported initial steep learning curve. A prospective analysis of the authors' first 51 cases using a two-portal endoscopic technique was conducted to determine whether these learning curve complications occurred. The authors did experience a learning curve; however, it was not significant. They encountered no serious complications and patient satisfaction was very high. It is concluded that the procedure is relatively easy to learn and safe to perform.

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John A. Jane Jr., Charles G. diPierro, Gregory A. Helm, Christopher I. Shaffrey and John A. Jane Sr.

Stenosis of the central and lateral lumbar vertebral canal can be congenital or acquired; the latter is most often caused by a degenerative process. The associated neurogenic claudication and/or radiculopathic symptom complexes are thought to result from compression of the cauda equina and lumbosacral nerve roots by hypertrophy of or encroachment by any combination of the following: canal walls, ligamenta flava, intervertebral discs, posterior longitudinal ligament, or epidural fat.

The authors' technique for the treatment of lumbar stenosis involves extensive unilateral decompression with undercutting of the spinous process and obviates the need for instrumentation by using a contralateral autologous bone fusion. The results in a series of 29 patients in whom the procedure was performed suggest that this decompression method safely and successfully treats not only the radicular symptoms caused by lateral stenosis but also the neurogenic claudication symptoms associated with central stenosis. In addition, the procedure can preserve spinal stability without instrumentation by using contralateral autologous bone fusion along the laminae and spinous processes.

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George J. Kaptain, Christopher I. Shaffrey, Tord D. Alden, Jacob N. Young and Richard Whitehill

Although the expectation of monetary compensation has been associated with failures in lumbar discectomy, the issue has not been investigated in patients undergoing cervical disc surgery. The authors analyzed the relationship between economic forms of secondary gain and surgical outcome in a group of patients with a common pay scale, retirement plan, and disability program.

All procedures were performed at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center between 1993 and 1995; active-duty military servicepersons treated for cervical radiculopathy were prospectively included. Clinical, demographic, and financial factors were analyzed to determine which were predictive of outcome. Financial data were used to create a compensation incentive, which is proportional to the patient's rank, years of service, potential disability, retirement eligibility, and base pay and reflects the monetary incentive of disability. The results of cervical surgery were compared to a previously reported companion population of patients treated for lumbar disc disease. A good outcome was defined as a return to active duty, whereas a referral for disability was considered a poor surgical result. A 100% follow-up rate was obtained for 269 patients who underwent 307 cervical operations. Only 16% (43 of 269) of patients who underwent cervical operation received disability, whereas 24.7% (86 of 348) of patients who underwent lumbar discectomy obtained a poor result (p = 0.0082). Although economic forms of secondary gain were not associated with a poor outcome in cervical disease, both the rank (p = 0.002) and duration (p = 0.03) of an individual's military career were significant factors (p = 0.02). Of the medical variables tested, multilevel surgery (p = 0.03) and revision operations at the same level (p = 0.03) were associated with referral for medical discharge.

Secondary gain in the form of economic compensation influences outcome in lumbar but not cervical disc surgery patients; the increased rate of disability referral in patients who underwent lumbar discectomy may reflect an expectation of economic compensation. Social factors that are independent of the anticipation of economic compensation seem to influence the outcome in cervical disc surgery patients.

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Michael J. Rauzzino, Christopher I. Shaffrey, James Wagner, Russ Nockels and Mark Abel

The indications for surgical intervention in patients with idiopathic scoliosis have been well defined. The goals of surgery are to achieve fusion and arrest progressive curvature while restoring normal coronal and sagittal balance. As first introduced by Harrington, posterior fusion, the gold standard of treatment, has a proven record of success. More recently, anterior techniques for performing fusion procedures via either a thoracotomy or a retroperitoneal approach have been popularized in attempts to achieve better correction of curvature, preserve motion segments, and avoid some of the complications of posterior fusion such as the development of the flat-back syndrome. Anterior instrumentation alone, although effective, can be kyphogenic and has been shown to be associated with complications such as pseudarthrosis and instrumentation failure. Performing a combined approach in patients with scoliosis and other deformities has become an increasingly popular procedure to achieve superior correction of deformity and to minimize later complications. Indications for a combined approach (usually consisting of anterior release, arthrodesis with or without use of instrumentation, and posterior segmental fusion) include: prevention of crankshaft phenomenon in juvenile or skeletally immature adolescents; correction of large curves (75°) or excessively rigid curves in skeletally mature or immature patients; correction of curves with large sagittal-plane deformities such as thoracic kyphosis (> 90°) or thoracic lordosis (> 20°); and correction of thoracolumbar curves that need to be fused to the sacrum. Surgery may be performed either in a staged proceedure or, more commonly, in a single sitting. The authors discuss techniques for combined surgery and complication avoidance.

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Gregory C. Wiggins, Michael J. Rauzzino, Christopher I. Shaffrey, Russ P. Nockels, Richard Whitehill, Mark E. Shaffrey, James Wagner and Tord D. Alden

This study was conducted to determine the safety, efficacy, and complication rate associated with the anterior approach in the use of a new titanium mesh interbody fusion cage for the treatment of unstable thoracolumbar burst fractures. The experience with this technique is compared with the senior authors' (C.S., R.W., and M.S.) previously published results in the management of patients with unstable thoracolumbar burst fractures.

Between 1996 and 1999, 21 patients with unstable thoracolumbar (T12-L3) burst fractures underwent an anterolateral decompressive procedure in which a titanium cage and Kaneda device were used. Eleven of the 21 patients had sustained a neurological deficit, and all patients improved at least one Frankel grade (average 1.2 grades). There was improvement in outcome in terms of blood loss, correction of kyphosis, and pain, as measured on the Denis Pain and Work Scale, in our current group of patients treated via an anterior approach when compared with the results in those who underwent a posterior approach.

In our current study the anterior approach was demonstrated to be a safe and effective technique for the management of unstable thoracolumbar burst fractures. It offers superior results compared with the posterior approach. The addition of the new titanium mesh interbody cage to our previous anterior technique allows the patient's own bone to be harvested from the corpectomy site and used as a substrate for fusion, thereby obviating the need for iliac crest harvest. The use of the cage in association with the Kaneda device allows for improved correction of kyphosis and restoration of normal sagittal alignment in addition to improved functional outcomes.

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Michael J. Rauzzino, Christopher I. Shaffrey, Russ P. Nockels, Gregory C. Wiggins, Jack Rock and James Wagner

The authors report their experience with 42 patients in whom anterior lumbar fusion was performed using titanium cages as a versatile adjunct to treat a wide variety of spinal deformity and pathological conditions. These conditions included congenital, degenerative, iatrogenic, infectious, traumatic, and malignant disorders of the thoracolumbar spine. Fusion rates and complications are compared with data previously reported in the literature.

Between July 1996 and July 1999 the senior authors (C.I.S., R.P.N., and M.J.R.) treated 42 patients by means of a transabdominal extraperitoneal (13 cases) or an anterolateral extraperitoneal approach (29 cases), 51 vertebral levels were fused using titanium cages packed with autologous bone. All vertebrectomies (27 cases) were reconstructed using a Miami Moss titanium mesh cage and Kaneda instrumentation. Interbody fusion (15 cases) was performed with either the BAK titanium threaded interbody cage (in 13 patients) or a Miami Moss titanium mesh cage (in two patients). The average follow-up period was 14.3 months. Seventeen patients had sustained a thoracolumbar burst fracture, 12 patients presented with degenerative spinal disorders, six with metastatic tumor, four with spinal deformity (one congenital and three iatrogenic), and three patients presented with spinal infections. In five patients anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) was supplemented with posterior segmental fixation at the time of the initial procedure. Of the 51 vertebral levels treated, solid arthrodesis was achieved in 49, a 96% fusion rate. One case of pseudarthrosis occurred in the group treated with BAK cages; the diagnosis was made based on the patient's continued mechanical back pain after undergoing L4–5 ALIF. The patient was treated with supplemental posterior fixation, and successful fusion occurred uneventfully with resolution of her back pain. In the group in which vertebrectomy was performed there was one case of fusion failure in a patient with metastatic breast cancer who had undergone an L-3 corpectomy with placement of a mesh cage. Although her back pain was immediately resolved, she died of systemic disease 3 months after surgery and before fusion could occur.

Complications related to the anterior approach included two vascular injuries (two left common iliac vein lacerations); one injury to the sympathetic plexus; one case of superficial phlebitis; two cases of prolonged ileus (greater than 48 hours postoperatively); one anterior femoral cutaneous nerve palsy; and one superficial wound infection. No deaths were directly related to the surgical procedure. There were no cases of dural laceration and no nerve root injury. There were no cases of deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolus, retrograde ejaculation, abdominal hernia, bowel or ureteral injury, or deep wound infection. Fusion-related complications included an iliac crest hematoma and prolonged donor-site pain in one patient. There were no complications related to placement or migration of the cages, but there was one case of screw fracture of the Kaneda device that did not require revision.

The authors conclude that anterior lumbar fusion performed using titanium interbody or mesh cages, packed with autologous bone, is an effective, safe method to achieve fusion in a wide variety of pathological conditions of the thoracolumbar spine. The fusion rate of 96% compares favorably with results reported in the literature. The complication rate mirrors the low morbidity rate associated with the anterior approach. A detailed study of clinical outcomes is in progress. Patient selection and strategies for avoiding complication are discussed.

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Charles Kuntz IV, Sohail K. Mirza, Abel D. Jarell, Jens R. Chapman, Christopher I. Shaffrey and David W. Newell

The optimum treatment of Type II odontoid fractures in the geriatric population remains controversial. Coexisting medical conditions encountered in the elderly patient often increase operative risk and make cervical immobilization difficult to tolerate. Previous studies have shown increased morbidity and mortality and decreased fusion rates for Type II odontoid fractures treated with cervical orthoses in the geriatric population, whereas low morbidity and mortality rates with operative management have recently been documented. To investigate the role of surgical and nonsurgical treatment, a retrospective analysis was performed of patients with Type II odontoid fractures who were at least 65 years old and were consecutively admitted to a single medical center from 1994 to 1998. Twenty patients met inclusion criteria. In 12 patients nonsurgical management with a cervical orthosis was attempted. The nonsurgical management failed early in six patients, with one associated death. Eleven patients were treated surgically with either anterior odontoid screw fixation or posterior C1–2 transarticular screw fixation and modified Gallie fusion. Postoperatively one patient required revision of the C1–2 transarticular screws, and there was one death. In conclusion Type II odontoid fractures in this elderly population were associated with early 10% morbidity and 20% mortality rates. Nonsurgical management of Type II odontoid fractures failed early in six (50%) of 12 patients, whereas surgical treatment failed early in one of 11 (9%) patients. Both the nonsurgical and surgical treatments resulted in approximately 10% morbidity and 10% mortality rates.

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Gregory C. Wiggins, Sohail Mirza, Carlo Bellabarba, G. Alex West, Jens R. Chapman and Christopher I. Shaffrey


Anterior decompression and stabilization for thoracic spinal tumors often involves a thoracotomy and can be associated with surgical approach–related complications. An alternative to thoracotomy is surgery via a costotransversectomy exposure.

To delineate the risks of surgery, the authors reviewed their prospective database for patients who had undergone surgery via either of these approaches for thoracic or thoracolumbar tumors. The complications were recorded and graded based on severity and risk of impact on patient outcome.


Between September 1995 and April 2001, the authors performed 29 costotransversectomies (Group 1) and 18 thoracolumbar or combined (Group 2) approaches as initial operations for thoracic neoplasms. The age, sex, pre-operative motor score, and preoperative Frankel grade did not significantly differ between the groups. In the costotransversectomy group there were greater numbers of metastases, upper thoracic procedures, and affected vertebral levels; additionally, the comorbidity rate based on Charlson score, was higher. The mean Frankel grades at discharge were not significantly different whereas the discharge motor and last follow-up motor scores were better in Group 2. There were 11 Group 1 and seven Group 2 patients who suffered at least one complication. The number or patients with complications, the mean number of complications, and severity of complications did not differ between the groups.


Compared with anterior or combined approaches, the incidence and severity of perioperative complications in the surgical treatment of thoracic and thoracolumbar spinal tumors is similar in patients who undergo costotransversectomy. Costotransversectomy may be the preferred operation in patients with significant medical comorbidity or tumors involving more than one thoracic vertebra.

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Diana Barrett Wiseman, Richard Ellenbogen and Christopher I. Shaffrey

Triage for the neurosurgeon is a misnomer. The neurosurgeon's role within a mass-casualty situation is one of a subspecialist surgeon instead of a triage officer. Unfortunately because of the events of September 11, 2001, civilian neurosurgeons and other medical specialists have been questioning their role within a mass-casualty situation or, worse, a situation created by biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. There is no single triage system used exclusively within the United States, and different systems have differing sensitivities, specificities, and labeling methods. The purpose of this article is to discuss varying aspects of triage for both military personnel and civilians and suggest how the neurosurgeon may help shape this process within his or her community. Furthermore, the effects of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons will be discussed in relation to the triage system.

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J. Patrick Johnson and Christopher I. Shaffrey