Does Optimal Timing for Spine Fracture Fixation Exist?

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Abstract

Objective

To evaluate the effect of timing of spine fracture fixation on outcome in multiply injured patients.

Summary Background Data

There is little consensus regarding the optimal timing of spine fracture fixation after blunt trauma. Potential advantages of early fixation include earlier patient mobilization and fewer septic complications; disadvantages include compounded complications from associated injuries and inconvenience of surgical scheduling.

Methods

Patients with spine fractures from blunt trauma admitted to an urban level 1 trauma center during a 42-month period who required surgical spine fracture fixation were identified from the registry. Patients were analyzed according to timing of fixation, level of spine injury, and impact of associated injuries (measured by injury severity score). Early fixation was defined as within 3 days of injury, and late fixation was after 3 days. Outcomes analyzed were intensive care unit and hospital stay, ventilator days, pneumonia, survival, and hospital charges.

Results

Two hundred ninety-one patients had spine fracture fixation, 142 (49%) early and 149 (51%) late. Patients were clinically similar relative to age, admission blood pressure, injury severity score, and chest abbreviated injury scale score. The intensive care unit stay was shorter for patients with early fixation. The incidence of pneumonia was lower for patients with early fixation. Charges were lower for patients with early fixation. Patients were stratified by level of spine injury. There were 163 cervical (83 early, 80 late), 79 thoracic (30 early, 49 late), and 49 lumbar fractures (29 early, 20 late). There were no differences in injury severity between early and late groups for each fracture site. The most striking differences occurred in the thoracic fracture group. Early fixation was associated with a lower incidence of pneumonia, a shorter intensive care unit stay, fewer ventilator days, and lower charges. High-risk patients had lower pneumonia rates and less hospital resource utilization with early fixation.

Conclusions

Early spine fracture fixation is safely performed in multiply injured patients. Early fixation is preferred in patients with thoracic spine fractures because it allows earlier mobilization and reduces the incidence of pneumonia. Although delaying fixation in the less severely injured may be convenient for scheduling, it increases hospital resource utilization and patient complications.

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