Flexible thecoscopy for extensive spinal arachnoiditis

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  • 1 Surgical Neurology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, Maryland;
  • | 2 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia; and
  • | 3 Neurosurgery Unit for Pituitary and Inheritable Diseases, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, Maryland
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OBJECTIVE

Chronic adhesive spinal arachnoiditis (SA) is a complex disease process that results in spinal cord tethering, CSF flow blockage, intradural adhesions, spinal cord edema, and sometimes syringomyelia. When it is focal or restricted to fewer than 3 spinal segments, the disease responds well to open surgical approaches. More extensive arachnoiditis extending beyond 4 spinal segments has a much worse prognosis because of less adequate removal of adhesions and a higher propensity for postoperative scarring and retethering. Flexible neuroendoscopy can extend the longitudinal range of the surgical field with a minimalist approach. The authors present a cohort of patients with severe cervical and thoracic arachnoiditis and myelopathy who underwent flexible endoscopy to address arachnoiditis at spinal segments not exposed by open surgical intervention. These observations will inform subsequent efforts to improve the treatment of extensive arachnoiditis.

METHODS

Over a period of 3 years (2017–2020), 10 patients with progressive myelopathy were evaluated and treated for extensive SA. Seven patients had syringomyelia, 1 had spinal cord edema, and 2 had spinal cord distortion. Surgical intervention included 2- to 5-level thoracic laminectomy, microscopic lysis of adhesions, and then lysis of adhesions at adjacent spinal levels performed using a rigid or flexible endoscope. The mean follow-up was 5 months (range 2–15 months). Neurological function was examined using standard measures. MRI was used to assess syrinx resolution.

RESULTS

The mean length of syringes was 19.2 ± 10 cm, with a mean maximum diameter of 7.0 ± 2.9 mm. Patients underwent laminectomies averaging 3.7 ± 0.9 (range 2–5) levels in length followed by endoscopy, which expanded exposure by an average of another 2.4 extra segments (6.1 ± 4.0 levels total). Endoscopic dissection of extensive arachnoiditis in the dorsal subarachnoid space proceeded through a complex network of opaque arachnoidal bands and membranes bridging from the dorsal dura mater to the spinal cord. In less severely problematic areas, the arachnoid membrane was transparent and attached to the spinal cord through multifocal arachnoid adhesions bridging the subarachnoid space. The endoscope did not compress or injure the spinal cord.

CONCLUSIONS

Intrathecal endoscopy allowed visual assessment and safe removal of intradural adhesions beyond the laminectomy margins. Further development of this technique should improve its effectiveness in opening the subarachnoid space and untethering the spinal cord in cases of extensive chronic adhesive SA.

ABBREVIATIONS

ASIA = American Spinal Injury Association; SA = spinal arachnoiditis.

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