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Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences 2005 June;49(2):49-57


language: English

Surgical approaches to the cervico-thoracic junction

Miscusi M. 1, Bellitti A. 2, Polli F. M. 1

1 Department of Neurosurgery La Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy 2 Unit of Radiology, Catholic University of The Sacred Heart Rome, Italy


The cervico-thoracic junction (CTJ) extends between the 7th cervical and the 4th thoracic vertebrae and comprehends the inferior portion of the brachial plexus and the parenchymatous, vascular and nervous structures of the upper mediastinum. The posterior surgical approaches, as the laminectomy or the arthro-pediclectomy, fail to expose the anterior spinal elements. Thus, further surgical approaches have been proposed: postero-lateral, antero-lateral (thoracotomies) and purely anterior. The aim of this study was to discuss indications, key anatomical landmarks and risks of the main surgical approaches to the CTJ. Ten fresh cadavers from the Anatomical Laboratory of the University of Nantes (France) were used for the surgical dissection of the CTJ. The postero-lateral and the antero-lateral approaches were performed in 4 cadavers each and the anterior approaches were studied in 2. The postero-lateral extrapleural approach (PLEA) permits an excellent antero-lateral exposure of the T2-T4 segment, preserving the parascapular musculature integrity. The thoracotomies allow the exposure of the antero-lateral portion of the junctional vertebrae, with the limits of the intrapleural approaches. The anterior approaches, including the presternocleidomastoid cervicotomy eventually associated to the sterno-claviculotomy, expose the anterior portion of the cervical and the upper thoracic vertebrae up to T4. We believe that the PLEA performs the greater surgical exposure with minimal risk of vasculo-nervous damage. Among the anterior approaches, the simple cervicotomy is the most indicated procedure in case of patients with certain anatomical conditions.

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