OBJECT: The standard treatment for lumbosacral tethered cord syndrome (TCS) in adults is surgical detethering. In patients with recurrent TCS, additional detethering operations are associated with increased risk of complications and subsequent scar formation. The authors studied the effect of undertaking a vertebral column subtraction osteotomy (VCSO) at the thoracolumbar junction to shorten the vertebral column and reduce neural element tension.
METHODS: A model of TCS, developed in fresh-frozen human cadavers, was evaluated in three experiments. In Experiment 1, VCSO of 20 to 25 mm was performed at the T11-12 level. The vertebral column was sequentially shortened and the reduction in tension was measured separately in the terminal filum and the L-1 to S-3 or S-4 nerve roots. In Experiments 2 and 3 the reduction in tension was measured in the spinal cord after a VCSO and after simulating a traditional detethering operation. Vertebral column shortening produced tension reduction in all experiments. Tension decreased to less than 0.6 g in the terminal filum, L1-S3/4 nerve roots, and spinal cord after closure of a 20- to 25-mm VCSO. The mean +/- standard deviation of the deltatension/deltadistance was -0.242 +/- 0.019 g/mm for the terminal filum, -0.246 +/- 0.019 g/mm for the lumbar nerve roots, and -0.216 +/- 0.040 g/mm for the sacral nerve roots. A simulated traditional detethering operation required significant neural element release (detethering) to achieve spinal cord tension reduction equivalent to VCSO.
CONCLUSIONS: A VCSO significantly reduced neural tension at the thoracolumbar junction. This novel procedure may provide an alternative to traditional surgical detethering when scarring is excessive and the risk of complications and retethering are high.
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