J Neurosurg Spine 2009 Nov;11(5):547-54
Neurosurgery Clinic, Veterinary Faculty, Istanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey.
Object: Postoperative dysphagia is a well-recognized complication of the anterior surgical approach to the cervical spine. However, its incidence and etiology remain unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of automatic retractor use on the esophagus and to describe the related pathological changes that might occur during cervical spine surgery.
Methods: A single-level cervical discectomy was performed via an anterior approach in 16 skeletally mature female sheep. Continuous retraction was applied with an automatic retractor system during surgery. The sheep model was chosen because of anatomical similarities to the human esophagus. The esophageal tract in every animal was examined using contrast radiographic examination. Eight animals were killed 3 days after the operation (Group 1). The remaining sheep were killed 4 weeks after the operation (Group 2). The esophagi were removed for histopathological study, which was performed using H & E and Masson trichrome staining. The changes in esophageal innervation were examined with nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide diphosphate-diaphorase histochemical staining.
Results: Only 1 animal (a Group 1 sheep) demonstrated any postoperative radiographic abnormality. In Group 1 sheep, histopathological study of the esophagi at the treated level revealed edema between the muscular fibers in the outer longitudinal and inner circular layers of the muscularis propria. At some points, obvious signs of vascular congestion, vascular damage, and inflammation were observed. In the Group 2 animals, there was mild-to-moderate fibrosis extending from the outer surface of the esophagus to the longitudinal layers of the muscularis propria in the area to which retraction had been applied. Enzyme-histochemical staining revealed the presence of normal myenteric plexus and ganglion cells, and nitrergic innervation in all parts of the esophagus wall.
Conclusions: The results of this study demonstrate that direct pressure induced by the medial retractor blade on the esophagus wall leads to local injury. Postoperative dysphagia in human patients who have undergone anterior cervical spine surgery could be a clinical manifestation of this phenomenon.