Object. Decompression of the spinal canal in the management of thoracolumbar trauma is controversial, but many authors have advocated decompression in patients with severe canal compromise and neurological deficits. Anterior decompression, corpectomy, and fusion have been shown to be more reliable for spinal canal reconstruction than posterior procedures; however, traditional anterior-access procedures, thoracotomy, and thoracoabdominal approaches are associated with significant complications. Endoscopy-guided spinal access avoids causing these morbidities, but it has not been shown to yield equivalent results in spinal canal clearance. This study was conducted to demonstrate the effectiveness of endoscopic spinal canal decompression and reconstruction quantitatively by using pre- and postoperative computerized tomography (CT) scanning.
Methods. Thirty patients with thoracolumbar canal compromise underwent endoscopic anterior spinal canal decompression, interbody reconstruction, and stabilization for fractures (27 cases), and tumor, infection, and severe degenerative disc disease (one case each). The mean follow-up period was 42 months (range 24 months–6 years). Neurological examinations, Frankel grades, radiological studies, and intraoperative findings were prospectively collected.
Spinal canal clearance quantified on pre- and postoperative CT scans improved from 55 to 110%. A total of 25% of patients with complete paraplegia and 65% of those with incomplete neurological deficit improved neurologically. The complication rate was 16.7% and included one reintubation, two pleural effusions, one intercostal neuralgia, and one persistent lesion of the sympathetic chain.
Conclusions. The authors describe the endoscopic technique of anterior spinal canal decompression in the thoracolumbar spine. The morbidities associated with an open procedure were avoided, and excellent spinal canal clearance was accomplished as was associated neurological improvement.