Previous studies have demonstrated the distinct advantages of thoracoscopically assisted spinal fusion compared to traditional open thoracotomy. However, these techniques are limited by a steep learning curve, prolonged operative time, and lack of three-dimensional visualization of the surgical field.
The objective of this study was to describe our initial experience with an adaptation of the extreme lateral interbody fusion (XLIF) technique allowing access to the anterior aspect of the thoracic and thoracolumbar spine with specific reference to (1) early pulmonary complications, (2) non-pulmonary complications, and (3) ability of this technique to successfully achieve spinal decompression and fusion at the operative level.
Clinical and radiographic data were reviewed for the entire perioperative period. A total of 18 patients (72% females; mean age, 56.8 years) underwent a thoracic XLIF procedure for spinal pathologies including disc herniation, fracture, tumor, pseudoarthrosis, and proximal junctional kyphosis. A total of 32 levels were treated, with the majority located at the thoracolumbar junction. Twelve of the procedures were done as part of a combined anterior/posterior surgery.
The mean estimated blood loss was 577 ml and the mean length of stay was 12 days. At a mean follow-up of 14 months, all patients except for one (who died of widely metastatic disease) had achieved radiographic evidence of fusion. Two patients developed pulmonary effusions requiring medical intervention. Six patients had seven non-pulmonary complications: incidental durotomy (two), infection (one), instrumentation pullout (one), cardiac arrhythmia (two), and death from metastatic disease (one).
The XLIF technique can be utilized for access to the anterior column of the thoracic and thoracolumbar spine. The advantages of this minimally invasive technique include avoidance of the need for an access surgeon and for lung deflation during surgery as well as excellent visualization of the spinal pathology.