A computed tomography–based feasibility study of translaminar screw fixation in the upper thoracic spine

Laboratory investigation

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Translaminar screws (TLSs) offer an alternative to pedicle screw (PS) fixation in the upper thoracic spine. Although cadaveric studies have described the anatomy of the laminae and pedicles at T1–2, CT imaging is the modality of choice for presurgical planning. In this study, the goal was to determine the diameter, maximal screw length, and optimal screw trajectory for TLS placement at T1–2, and to compare this information to PS placement in the upper thoracic spine as determined by CT evaluation.


One hundred patients (50 men and 50 women), whose average age was 41.7 ± 19.6 years, were selected by retrospective review of a trauma registry database over a 6-month period. Patients were included in the study if they were over the age of 18, had standardized axial bone-window CT imaging at T1–2, and had no evidence of spinal trauma. For each lamina and pedicle, width (outer cortical and cancellous), maximal screw length, and optimal screw trajectory were measured using eFilm Lite software. Statistical analysis was performed using the Student t-test.


The T-1 lamina was estimated to accommodate, on average, a 5.8-mm longer screw than the T-2 lamina (p < 0.001). At T-1, the maximal TLS length was similar to PS length (TLS: 33.4 ± 3.6 mm, PS: 33.9 ± 3.3 mm [p = 0.148]), whereas at T-2, the maximal PS length was significantly greater than the TLS length (TLS: 27.6 ± 3.1 mm, PS: 35.3 ± 3.5 mm [p < 0.001]). When the lamina outer cortical and cancellous width was compared between T-1 and T-2, the lamina at T-2 was, on average, 0.3 mm wider than at T-1 (p = 0.007 and p = 0.003, respectively). In comparison with the corresponding pedicle, the mean outer cortical pedicle width at T-1 was wider than the lamina by an average of 1.0 mm (lamina: 6.6 ± 1.1 mm, pedicle: 7.6 ± 1.3 mm [p < 0.001]). At T-2, however, outer cortical lamina width was wider than the corresponding pedicle by an average of 0.6 mm (lamina: 6.9 ± 1.1 mm, pedicle: 6.3 ± 1.2 mm [p < 0.001]). At T-1, 97.5% of laminae measured could accept a 4.0-mm screw with 1.0 mm of clearance, compared with 99.5% of T-1 pedicles; whereas at T-2, 99% of laminae met this requirement, compared with 94.5% of pedicles. The ideal screw trajectory was also measured (T-1: 49.2 ± 3.7° for TLS and 32.8 ± 3.8° for PS; T-2: 51.1 ± 3.5° for TLS and 20.5 ± 4.4° for PS).


Based on CT evaluation, there are no anatomical limitations to the placement of TLSs compared with PSs at T1–2. Differences were noted, however, in lamina length and width between T-1 and T-2 that must be considered when placing TLS at these levels.

Abbreviations used in this paper: PS = pedicle screw; TLS = translaminar screw.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Ryan M. Kretzer, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Meyer 8-161, 600 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21287. email: rkretzer@jhmi.edu.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



  • View in gallery

    Axial CT scan at T-1 showing (upper) optimal TLS length and trajectory and (lower) determination of medialization angle in relation to midline.

  • View in gallery

    Axial CT scan at T-1 showing (upper) optimal PS length and trajectory and (lower) determination of medialization angle in relation to midline.

  • View in gallery

    Axial CT scan at T-1 showing measurement of (upper) outer cortical diameter and (lower) cancellous diameter for each lamina and pedicle.

  • View in gallery

    Bar graph showing average maximum TLS versus PS length at T1–2.

  • View in gallery

    Bar graph showing average outer cortical lamina versus pedicle width at T1–2.



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