Thoracic duct variations may complicate the anterior spine procedures

Eur Spine J. 2006 Sep;15(9):1347-51. doi: 10.1007/s00586-006-0082-3. Epub 2006 Mar 17.


The aim of this study is to localize and document the anatomic features of the thoracic duct and its tributaries with special emphasis on the spinal surgery point of view. The thoracic ducts were dissected from nine formaldehyde-preserved male cadavers. The drainage patterns, diameter of the thoracic duct in upper, middle and lower thoracic segments, localization of main tributaries and morphologic features of cisterna chyli were determined. The thoracic duct was detected in all cadavers. The main tributaries were concentrated at upper thoracic (between third and fifth thoracic vertebrae) and lower thoracic segments (below the level of ninth thoracic vertebra) at the right side. However, the main lymphatic tributaries were drained into the thoracic duct only in the lower thoracic area (below the level of the tenth thoracic vertebra) at the left side. Two major anatomic variations were detected in the thoracic duct. In the first case, there were two different lymphatic drainage systems. In the second case, the thoracic duct was found as bifid at two different levels. In formaldehyde preservation, the dimensions of the soft tissues may change. For that reason, the dimensions were not discussed and they may not be a guide in surgery. Additionally, our study group is quite small. Larger series may be needed to define the anatomic variations. As a conclusion, anatomic variations of the thoracic duct are numerous and must be considered to avoid complications when doing surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Aorta, Thoracic / anatomy & histology
  • Azygos Vein / anatomy & histology
  • Cadaver
  • Chylothorax / etiology*
  • Chylothorax / physiopathology
  • Chylothorax / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*
  • Spinal Fusion / standards
  • Thoracic Cavity / anatomy & histology*
  • Thoracic Cavity / surgery
  • Thoracic Duct / anatomy & histology*
  • Thoracic Duct / injuries
  • Thoracic Duct / physiology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / surgery