Development and evolution of a robotic surgical technique for the treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome

J Vasc Surg. 2021 Sep;74(3):938-945.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2021.02.013. Epub 2021 Feb 24.


Objective: We describe the development and evolution of a surgical technique that uses the robotic da Vinci Surgical System (Intuitive Surgical, Inc, Sunnyvale, Calif) for the transaxillary approach to repair the disabling thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). We report our patient outcomes associated with the use of this robotic technique.

Methods: We present a retrospective review and analysis of data collected from a 16-year experience of a single surgeon using a robotic surgical system and technique for TOS surgery. From the initial design of an endoscope attached to a microvideo camera in 1982 to the adoption of the monorobotic arm with integrated voice in 1998, the main objective of the transaxillary approach has always been to improve visualization of congenital cervical anomalies of the scalene muscles. From February 2003 to December 2018, we performed 412 transaxillary decompression procedures using the robotic da Vinci Surgical System. The surgical procedure has been described in further detail and includes the following steps: (1) positioning of the patient into a lateral decubitus position and using a monoarm retractor; (2) creation of a mini-incision in the axillary area and creation and maintenance of the subpectoral anatomic working space; (3) placement of endoscopic ports and engagement of the robotic instrumentation; (4) dissection of extrapleural and intrapleural soft tissue; (5) creation of the "floater" first rib; (6) excision of the cervical bands and first rib; and (7) placement of thoracostomy tubes for drainage and closure of the incisions.

Results: None of the patients died, and no patient experienced permanent neurovascular damage of the extremity. Of the 306 patients, 22 (5% of 441 operations) experienced complications. One patient developed postoperative scarring that required a redo operation with a robotic-assisted transaxillary approach.

Conclusions: With its three-dimensional visual magnification of the anatomic area, the endoscopic robotic-assisted transaxillary approach offers safe and effective management of disabling TOS symptoms. The endoscope facilitates observation of the cervical bands and the mechanism (pathogenesis) of the neurovascular compression that causes TOS, thereby allowing complete excision of the first rib, cervical bands, and scalene muscle. We sought to develop and perfect this robotic approach. The present study was not intended to be a comparative study to nonrobotic TOS surgery.

Keywords: Endoscopic video-assisted surgery; Robotic surgical procedures; Surgical outcome; Thoracic outlet syndrome; da Vinci surgical system.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chest Tubes
  • Decompression, Surgical* / adverse effects
  • Decompression, Surgical* / instrumentation
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Endoscopes
  • Endoscopy* / adverse effects
  • Endoscopy* / instrumentation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteotomy* / adverse effects
  • Osteotomy* / instrumentation
  • Patient Positioning
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / surgery
  • Reoperation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Robotic Surgical Procedures* / adverse effects
  • Robotic Surgical Procedures* / instrumentation
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / surgery*
  • Thoracostomy* / adverse effects
  • Thoracostomy* / instrumentation
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult