Object. Thoracic synovial cysts (TSCs) are rare and are usually the subject of case reports. The authors studied the clinical manifestations, radiological aspects, and surgical treatment in a series of patients at their institution who harbored TSCs. They also review the literature to discuss the potential factors involved in the pathogenesis of this lesion.
Methods. A database search of 16,000 patients who underwent decompressive spine surgery at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) between 1976 and 2003 disclosed nine patients (0.06%) in whom a diagnosis of TSC had been made. All patients were men. The mean age at presentation was 73 ± 5 years and mean duration of symptoms was 5 ± 3 months. The mean duration of follow up was 4 ± 3 years.
The patients had no history of trauma or spine surgery. All patients had spastic paraparesis; two had urinary difficulties. Detailed neurological examination revealed myelopathy and radiculopathy with a sensory level of T10—L4. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed bilateral cysts in four patients and unilateral lesions in five. Three of the cysts were at the T-10 interspace, seven at the T-11 interspace, and three at the T-12 interspace. Seven cysts were on the right and six were on the left. Computerized tomography myelography performed in five patients revealed a gas bubble in the TSC in two patients. All patients underwent laminectomy/partial facetectomy, excision of the cyst, and decompression of the thecal sac and nerve root without any complications. None of these patients underwent a fusion. Eight patients (89%) experienced moderate to excellent relief of their preoperative signs and symptoms and one patient (11%) remained stable. There was no evidence of cyst recurrence at the site of surgery or other spinal segments at follow-up examination in any patient.
Conclusions. When compared with their lumbar and cervical spine counterparts, TSCs are exceedingly rare. Their rarity may be explained by the decreased mobility of the thoracic spinal segments. The origin of TSCs is more likely degenerative rather than traumatic. Based on their experience and the follow-up duration, surgery provided durable relief from symptoms.