Symptomatic thoracic disc herniations (TDHs) are rare, and multiple TDHs account for an even smaller percentage of symptomatic herniated discs. Most TDHs are found in the lower thoracic spine, with more than 75% occurring below T-8. The authors report a series of 15 patients with multiple symptomatic TDHs treated with a modified transfacet approach.
Fifteen patients (9 women and 6 men) with a total of 32 symptomatic TDHs were treated surgically at the authors' institution between 1994 and 2010. The average patient age was 51.1 years. Thirteen patients had 2-level herniation and 2 patients had 3-level disease. The most commonly involved level was T7-8 (10 herniations), followed by T6-7 and T8-9 (6 herniations each). All patients had long-standing myelopathic and/or radicular complaints at the time of presentation. Each disc that exhibited radiographically confirmed compression of the spinal cord or nerve root was considered for resection. Only patients with lateral disc herniations were considered for the modified transfacet approach; patients with a centrally herniated disc underwent ventral or ventral-lateral procedures. The average follow-up time was 30 months.
All patients had successful resection of their herniated discs. All patients with preoperative weakness demonstrated improved strength, and 11 of 12 patients with preoperative pain showed improvement in pain. Sensory loss was less consistently improved. The 2 patients who underwent posterior fixation and fusion achieved radiographically confirmed fusion by the 1-year follow-up. Nine of 10 patients who were working returned to their jobs. Eleven of 12 patients with preoperative back or radicular pain had drastic or complete pain resolution; 1 patient had no change in pain. All 7 patients with preoperative ambulatory difficulty had postoperative gait improvement. Complications were minimal.
Multiple symptomatic herniated thoracic discs are rare causes of pain and disability, but should be treated surgically because good outcomes can be achieved with acceptably low morbidity.