How To Maximize a Minimal Incision


Mini-incision carotid surgery was first reported (not necessarily performed) by Ascher et al. in 2005. In light of this report and an ever-growing patient demand for minimally invasive procedures, it is surprising that this procedure has not been widely adopted by the vascular surgical community. The reasons for this are probably multifactorial and may include a concern that cranial nerve injuries are more likely to occur as well as an added difficulty in placing a shunt or sewing in a patch. These concerns are mitigated by a thorough knowledge of the usual and variant anatomy of this area and a broad experience in carotid surgery. If performed properly, mini-incision is not synonymous with mini exposure carotid surgery.

Photos courtesy Dr. Alan Dietzek

Figure 1: The edges of the platysma are grasped with DeBakey forceps while the skin is retracted as far inferiorly as possible.

It is important to identify the carotid bifurcation with duplex ultrasound prior to making the skin incision. It is my preference to make a vertical skin incision which extends from approximately 2 cm above to below the carotid bifurcation at a slight outside to inside angle to the anterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (some surgeons prefer a transverse skin incision). The platysma muscle is identified and divided for a short distance between forceps.

The edges of the platysma are grasped with DeBakey forceps while the skin is retracted as far inferiorly as possible.

The platysma is then divided to this point following which this is repeated at the superior aspect of the wound. The extended division of the platysma is what allows for an exposure equal to that of a much larger incision. Now adequate visualization of the common and internal carotid arteries is achieved by use of a small retractor applied alternately to the inferior and superior ends of the wound respectively.

Using this technique, I have easily been able to perform both standard and eversion endarterectomies (as in photo), place a shunt when necessary, and/or sew on a carotid patch.

Figure 2: After the operation, the skin is closed with an absorbable monofilament suture.

Once completed the platysma is closed with an absorbable suture and skin is closed with an absorbable monofilament suture.

In my experience, patients have less postoperative pain than those with a larger neck incision. They are also exceptionally pleased with the small, barely visible, neck scar. Finally, I have used the mini-incision for my carotid surgeries for more than 10 years during which time no patient has suffered a permanent cranial nerve injury.

Dr. Dietzek is the chief of the vascular and endovascular surgery section and the Linda and Stephen R. Cohen chair in vascular surgery at Danbury Hospital, Danbury Conn. He is also a clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.

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