Symptomatic thoracic disc herniation (TDH) is rare, and for those patients that fail conservative treatment, two main categories of surgical approaches exist-anterior and posterolateral. In many cases either approach would be considered equally appropriate. Recommendations in support of either anterior or posterolateral approaches are currently based on case series and expert opinion. Here, we utilize National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database to determine and compare the rates of complication associated with anterior or posterolateral approaches in the treatment of TDH.

An analysis of NSQIP data from 2005 to 2014 was conducted. Patients were included based on a combination of a postoperative diagnosis of TDH. Patients were then grouped according to anterior or posterior approaches on the basis of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes. Propensity score matching was performed to account for baseline demographics [sex, race, age, obesity, diabetes, smoking, history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), history of CHF, and American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) class]. The 30-day outcome measures of these patients were analyzed.

A total of 432 patients were identified, 80.3% underwent posterolateral and 19.7% anterior interventions. There were no significant differences in 30-day outcome measures between the anterior or posterior intervention groups. Within the matched group of 170 patients, the anterior group had significantly longer lengths of stay (5.49±3.96 vs. 4.01±4.81, P< 0.0001), but there were no observed significant differences in the rate of occurrences of UTIs, pneumonias, sepsis, bleeding, intubation, or death.

Posterolateral and anterior approaches carry an equal non-neurological perioperative complication profile. Posterolateral approaches may carry shorter hospital stays compared to anterior interventions.