Surgical Treatment of Traumatic Fractures of the Thoracic and Lumbar Spine: A Systematic Review of the Literature on Techniques, Complications, and Outcome

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Study Design.A systematic review of the literature, pertaining surgical treatment of traumatic thoracic and lumbar spine fractures, was performed.Objectives.To provide information on surgical techniques for traumatic spine fracture management, their respective performance and complication rates, based on previously published information.Summary of Background Data.The treatment of traumatic fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine remains controversial. There is insufficient evidence in the literature to choose between the various surgical options. In absence of conclusive studies, a systematic review can be an alternative to obtain more convincing information.Methods.Full-text papers from 1970 until 2001 were included if strict inclusion criteria were met. Five surgical subgroups were recognized: posterior short-segment (PS), posterior long-segment (PL), reports on both posterior short- and long-segment (PSL), anterior (A), and anterior combined with posterior (AP) techniques. Clearly defined and generally accepted parameters were scored and subsequently analyzed. The preoperative injury severity of the surgical groups was compared. The neurologic, radiologic, and functional outcome and complications of all groups were assessed.Results.A total of 132 papers, the majority being retrospective case-series, were included representing 5,748 patients. The preoperative injury severity revealed an inequality between the subgroups. Partial neurologic deficits had the potential to resolve irrespective of treatment choice. None of the five techniques used was able to maintain the corrected kyphosis angle. The functional outcome after surgery seems to be better than generally believed. Complications are relatively rare.Conclusions.In general, surgical treatment of traumatic spine fractures is safe and effective. Surgical techniques can only be compared using randomized controlled trials.

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