The Transverse Process Trajectory Technique: An Alternative for Thoracic Pedicle Screw Implantation-Radiographic and Biomechanical Analysis

Int J Spine Surg. 2021 Apr;15(2):315-323. doi: 10.14444/8041. Epub 2021 Apr 1.


Background: This study evaluates the accuracy, biomechanical profile, and learning curve of the transverse process trajectory technique (TPT) compared to the straightforward (SF) and in-out-in (IOI) techniques. SF and IOI have been used for fixation in the thoracic spine. Although widely used, there are associated learning curves and symptomatic pedicular breaches. We have found the transverse process to be a reproducible pathway into the pedicle.

Methods: Three surgeons with varying experience (experienced [E] with 20 years in practice, surgeon [S] with less than 10 years in practice, and senior resident trainee [T] with no experience with TPT) operated on 8 cadavers. In phase 1, each surgeon instrumented 2 cadavers, alternating between TPT and SF from T1 to T12 (n = 48 total levels). In phase 2, the E and T surgeons instrumented 1 cadaver each, alternating between TPT and IOI. Computed tomography scans were analyzed for accuracy of screw placement, defined as the percentage of placements without critical breaches. Axial pullout and derotational force testing were performed. Statistical analyses include paired t test and analysis of variance with Tukey correction.

Results: Overall accuracy of screw placement was comparable between techniques (TPT: 92.7%; SF: 97.2%; IOI: 95.8%; P = .4151). Accuracy by technique did not differ for each individual surgeon (E: P = .7733; S: P = .3475; T: P = .4191) or by experience level by technique (TPT: P = .1127; FH: P = .5979; IOI: P = .5935). Pullout strength was comparable between TPT and SF (571 vs 442 N, P = .3164) but was greater for TPT versus IOI (454 vs 215 N, P = .0156). There was a trend toward improved derotational force for TPT versus SF (1.06 vs 0.93 Nm/degrees, P = .0728) but not for TPT versus IOI (1.36 vs 1.16 Nm/degrees, P = .74). Screw placement time was shortest for E and longest for T for TPT and SF and not different for IOI (TPT: P = .0349; SF: P < .0001; IOI: P = .1787) but did not vary by technique.

Conclusions: We describe the TPT, which uses the transverse process as a corridor through the pedicle. TPT is an accurate method of thoracic pedicle screw placement with potential biomechanical advantages and with acceptable learning curve characteristics.

Clinical relevance: This study provides the surgeon with a new trajectory for pedicle screw placement that can be used in clinical practice.

Keywords: accuracy of placement; biomechanical characteristics; instrumentation; reproducibility; screw placement; spine surgeon learning curve; thoracic pedicle screw implantation; thoracic spinal deformities; transverse process trajectory technique.