Lateral parascapular extrapleural approach to the upper thoracic spine

J Neurosurg. 1991 Sep;75(3):349-55. doi: 10.3171/jns.1991.75.3.0349.


The upper thoracic vertebrae are difficult to approach surgically because of the narrowing of the thoracic inlet, the proximity of the brachial plexus, and the parascapular shoulder musculature. A novel lateral parascapular extrapleural approach to the upper thoracic vertebrae is described. The parascapular shoulder musculature (trapezius, levator scapulae, and rhomboid muscles) is reflected off the spinous processes to the scapula as a musculocutaneous flap, preserving the neurovascular supply. The paraspinal musculature is mobilized and retracted, and the upper dorsal ribs are removed with caution to avoid injury to the C-8 and T-1 nerve roots. The rami communicantes are transected, and the sympathetic chain is displaced anterolaterally. The T2-4 vertebrae can be approached unobstructed. The T-1 nerve root obstructs posterolateral access to the T-1 vertebra, necessitating an inferolateral approach underneath the T-1 nerve root axilla. Four patients with compressive myelopathy from upper thoracic vertebral metastases underwent neural decompression, vertebral reconstruction, and posterior spinal fixation with this approach. Their postoperative neurological status was either unchanged or improved. Complications included radiographic pleural effusion and superficial wound dehiscence; one patient required posterior spinal reinstrumentation for progressive kyphosis. One patient developed pneumonia 7 days postoperatively which was unresponsive to appropriate treatment. It is believed that the anatomical limitations to this region have been overcome, and that excellent exposure of the T1-4 vertebrae for neural decompression and vertebral reconstruction can be performed safely. A major advantage is that posterior spinal fixation can be carried out simultaneously.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleura
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Scapula
  • Spinal Cord Compression / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Compression / surgery
  • Spinal Neoplasms / complications
  • Spinal Neoplasms / secondary
  • Spinal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / methods
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / surgery*