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Thoracoscopic spinal instrumentation and fusion has emerged as a viable alternative to open anterior and posterior techniques for the treatment of thoracic adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Furthermore, the morbidity associated with thoracoscopy is limited, and the cosmetic result more desirable because of the minimal skin and chest wall dissection required with this method. However, the technique is technically demanding and has been perceived as having a steep learning curve. The objective of our study is to anal the initial series of 50 patients performed by a single surgeon, with respect to the coronal and sagittal alignment on radiographs, as well as a review of the peri-operative data and complications.

Fifty consecutive patients who underwent thoraco-scopic instrumentation and fusion were divided into two groups for the purpose of this study: the first 25 cases (1st group) and the second 25 cases (2nd group). The minimum follow-up of these cases was 12 months (range 12 to 67 months). Data collected included the operative time, intra-operative blood loss, number of levels instrumented, length of the hospital stay, the number of days in the ICU, and the duration of analgesia.

No major complications, such as neurological deficit, vascular injury, or implant failure were observed. No significant difference was encountered between the groups in terms of age and menarche at surgery, pre-operative curve magnitude and flexibility, sagittal profile, as well as the number of levels in the curve pre-operatively. The second group had significantly better coronal deformity correction at one week post-operatively (9.5 degrees versus 16.3 degrees, p < 0.001), six months post-operatively (12.1 degrees versus 18.9 degrees, p < 0.001), and at latest follow-up (15.1 degrees versus 19.5 degrees, p < 0.05). The percentage correction of scoliosis was significantly better in the second group at one week postoperatively (p < 0.001), six months post-operatively (p < 0.001), and at latest follow-up (p = 0.014). The percentage change in thoracic kyphosis and lumbar lordosis after surgery was not significantly different between both groups at various times of follow-up. There was no difference between both groups with regards to the number of levels fused, hospital stay, and duration of parenteral analgesia. Operative time was significantly less in the second group (302 minutes versus 372 minutes, p < 0.001). Estimated blood loss was also less in the second group (170 cc versus 266 cc, p = 0.04). The length of ICU stay was also shorter in the second group (1.8 days versus three days, p = 0.004). From the loess (locally-weighted regression) fit, the learning curve is estimated to be 30 cases with regards to the operative time, ICU duration, and the coronal plane deformity correction.

The learning curve associated with thoracoscopic spinal instrumentation is acceptable. The complication rates remained stable throughout the surgeon’s experience. Thoracoscopic anterior instrumented fusion is a viable surgical alternative to standard posterior fusion and instrumentation for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis requiring selective thoracic fusion.

Correspondence should be addressed to Jeremy C T Fairbank at The Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Windmill Road, Headington, Oxford OX7 7LD, UK