Jia Liu, Shengfa Li, Ke Huang, Xianzhe Lu, Yu Shi, Kegong Xie, Yujing Tang

March 2019, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 470 - 476 Ideas and Technical Innovations Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-018-5686-x

First Online: 13 July 2018


Disorders of the upper thoracic spine can lead to serious disability and morbidity. However, operating on the upper thoracic vertebrae T2–T5 remains challenging because of the anatomical features of the thoracic spine. We describe a novel anterolateral upper thoracic approach, which is safe and reproducible and allows direct access to the upper thoracic spine from T2 to T6 inclusive, obviating the risk of damaging complex anatomical structures inherent in the anterior trans-sternal approach.


Three patients with upper thoracic spinal-related spinal cord compression disease, presented with progressive thoracic myelopathy and upper back pain. Magnetic resonance imaging showed direct spinal cord compression due to upper thoracic vertebral destruction. In addition preoperative computed tomography also revealed vertebral erosion and collapse. The surgical management of the three patients involved decompression and reconstruction via the right infraaxillary thoracotomy approach, and fixation with a titanium mesh cage and an anterior plate in each.


Clinical outcome measures including pre- and postoperative radiographic parameters were assessed. There were no complications associated with this technique. The back pain and neural function gradually improved, and plate placement was achieved in all patients. None of the patients experienced clinical symptoms or screw loosening or breakage in this study.


The technique described is a safe and novel right infraaxillary thoracotomy approach to provide direct access from vertebral bodies T2–T6 and to provide adequate room for upper thoracic vertebral decompression and fusion surgery. However, a suitable fixation implant should be designed.

Graphical abstract

These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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