Avoidance of Wrong-level Thoracic Spine Surgery Using Sterile Spinal Needles: A Technical Report

Clin Spine Surg. 2017 Feb;30(1):E54-E58. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0b013e3182a35762.


Study design: A technical report.

Objective: The aim of the present study was to present an improvement on localization techniques employed for use in the thoracic spine using sterile spinal needles docked on the transverse process of each vertebra, which can be performed in both percutaneous and open spinal procedures.

Summary of background data: Wrong-level surgery may have momentous clinical and emotional implications for a patient and surgeon. It is reported that one in every 2 spine surgeons will operate on the wrong level during his or her career. Correctly localizing the specific thoracic level remains a significant challenge during spine surgery.

Methods: Fluoroscopic anteroposterior and lateral views were obtained starting in the lower lumbar spine, and an 18-G spinal needle was placed in the transverse process of L3 counting up from the sacrum and also at T12. The fluoroscopy was then moved cephalad and counting from the spinal needle at T12, the other spinal needles were placed at the targeted operating thoracic vertebrae. Once this was done, we were able to accurately determine the thoracic levels for surgical intervention.

Results: Using this technique, the markers were kept in place even after the incisions were made. This prevented us from losing our location in the thoracic spine. Correctly placed instrumentation was made evident with postoperative imaging.

Conclusions: We have described the successful use of a new technique using spinal needles docked against transverse processes to correctly and reliably identify thoracic levels before instrumentation. The technique was reproducible in both open surgeries and for a percutaneous procedure. This technique maintains the correct spinal level during an open procedure. We posit that wrong-level thoracic spine surgery may be preventable.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Technical Report

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Back Pain / etiology
  • Back Pain / surgery*
  • Female
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needles*
  • Scoliosis / complications
  • Scoliosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Fusion / methods*
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Spine / surgery*
  • Thoracic Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed