Posterior Short-Segment Fixation with or without Fusion for Thoracolumbar Burst Fractures: A Five to Seven-Year Prospective Randomized Study

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Abstract

Background: The impact of fusion as a supplement to short-segment instrumentation for the treatment of thoracolumbar burst fractures is unclear. We conducted a controlled clinical trial to define the effect of fusion on lumbar spine and patient-related functional outcomes.

Methods: From 2000 to 2002, seventy-three consecutive patients with a single-level Denis type-B burst fracture involving the thoracolumbar spine and a load-sharing score of ≤6 were managed with posterior pedicle screw instrumentation. The patients were randomly assigned to treatment with posterolateral fusion (fusion group, n = 37) or without posterolateral fusion (nonfusion group, n = 36). The patients were followed for at least five years after surgery and were assessed with regard to clinical and radiographic outcomes. Clinical outcomes were evaluated with use of the Frankel scale, the motor score of the American Spinal Injury Association, a visual analog scale, and the Short Form-36 (SF-36) questionnaire. Radiographic outcomes were assessed on the basis of the local kyphosis angle and loss of kyphosis correction.

Results: No significant difference in radiographic or clinical outcomes was noted between the patients managed with the two techniques. Both operative time and blood loss were significantly less in the nonfusion group compared with the fusion group (p < 0.05). Twenty-five of the thirty-seven patients in the fusion group still had some degree of donor-site pain at the time of the latest examination.

Conclusions: Posterolateral bone-grafting is not necessary when a Denis type-B thoracolumbar burst fracture associated with a load-sharing score of ≤6 is treated with short-segment pedicle screw fixation.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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