Object. The authors began using thoracoscopy to treat pathological conditions of the spine in 1992. In this study they delineate their clinical experience in which this procedure was used to resect herniated thoracic discs.
Methods. Fifty-five patients underwent thoracoscopy for the resection of herniated thoracic discs. Thirty-six patients presented with myelopathies and 19 with incapacitating thoracic radicular pain. Forty-three patients underwent a single-level, 11 a two-level, and one a three-level discectomy. The mean operative time for thoracoscopic microdiscectomy was 3 hours and 25 minutes (range 80–542 minutes) and the mean blood loss was 327 ml (range 124–1500 ml). Compared with thoracotomy, which was performed in 18 patients, thoracoscopy was associated with a mean of 1 hour less operative time and less than one-half of the blood loss, duration of chest tube drainage, usage of pain medication, and length of hospitalization. Compared with costotransversectomy, which was performed in 15 patients, thoracoscopy permitted more complete resection of calcified and midline thoracic discs because it provided a direct view of the entire anterior surface of the dura. Thoracotomy was associated with a significantly greater incidence of prolonged, disabling intercostal neuralgia compared with the mild transient episodes of intercostal neuralgia associated with thoracoscopy (50% compared with 16%). Thoracotomy also was associated with a significantly higher incidence of postoperative atelectasis and pulmonary dysfunction than thoracoscopy (33% compared with 7%). Clinical and neurological outcomes were excellent (mean follow-up period 15 months). Among the 36 myelopathic patients, 22 completely recovered neurologically; five improved functionally but had some residual myelopathic symptoms; and nine stabilized. Among the 19 patients with isolated thoracic radiculopathies, 15 recovered completely and four improved moderately; no patient had worsened radicular pain.
Conclusions. Thoracoscopic microdiscectomy is a reliable surgical technique that can be performed safely with excellent clinical and neurological results.