Successful Short-Segment Instrumentation and Fusion for Thoracolumbar Spine Fractures: A Consecutive 4½-Year Series

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Abstract

Study Design.

A retrospective review of all the surgically managed spinal fractures at the University of Missouri Medical Center during the 41/2-year period from January 1989 to July 1993 was performed. Of the 51 surgically managed patients, 46 were instrumented by short-segment technique (attachment of one level above the fracture to one level below the fracture). The other 5 patients in this consecutive series had multiple trauma. These patients were included in the review because this was a consecutive series. However, they were grouped separately because they were instrumented by long-segment technique because of their multiple organ system injuries.

Objectives.

The choice of the anterior or posterior approach for short-segment instrumentation was based on the Load-Sharing Classification published in a 1994 issue of Spine. The purpose of this review was to demonstrate that grading comminution by use of the Load-Sharing Classification for approach selection and the choice of patients with isolated fractures who are cooperative with spinal bracing for 4 months provide the keys to successful short-segment treatment of isolated spinal fractures.

Summary of Background Data.

The current literature implies that the use of pedicle screws for short-segment instrumentation of spinal fracture is dangerous and inappropriate because of the high screw fracture rate.

Methods.

Charts, operative notes, preoperative and postoperative radiographs, computed tomography scans, and follow-up records of all patients were reviewed carefully from the time of surgery until final follow-up assessment. The Load-Sharing Classification had been used prospectively for all patients before their surgery to determine the approach for short-segment instrumentation. Denis’ Pain Scale and Work Scales were obtained during follow-up evaluation for all patients.

Results.

All patients were observed over 40 months except for 1 patient who died of unrelated causes after 35 months. The mean follow-up period was 66 months (51/2 years). No patient was lost to follow-up evaluation. Prospective application of the Load-Sharing Classification to the patients’ injury and restriction of the short-segment approach to cooperative patients with isolated spinal fractures (excluding multisystem trauma patients) allowed 45 of 46 patients instrumented by the short-segment technique to proceed to successful healing in virtual anatomic alignment.

Conclusions.

The Load-Sharing Classification is a straightforward way to describe the amount of bony comminution in a spinal fracture. When applied to patients with isolated spine fractures who are cooperative with 3 to 4 months of spinal bracing, it can help the surgeon select short-segment pedicle-screw-based fixation using the posterior approach for less comminuted injuries and the anterior approach for those more comminuted. The choice of which fracture–dislocations should be strut grafted anteriorly and which need only posterior short-segment pedicle-screw-based instrumentation also can be made using the Load-Sharing Classification.

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