Does Surgical Intervention or Timing of Surgery Have an Effect on Neurological Recovery in the Setting of a Thoracolumbar Burst Fracture?
Traumatic thoracolumbar burst fractures are one of the most common forms of spinal trauma with the majority occurring at the junctional area where mechanical load is maximal (AOSpine Thoracolumbar Spine Injury Classification System Subtype A3 or A4). Burst fractures entail the involvement of the middle column, and therefore, they are typically associated with bone fragment in the spinal canal, which may cause compression of the spinal cord, conus medullaris, cauda equina, or a combination of these. Fortunately, approximately half of the patients with thoracolumbar burst fractures are neurologically intact due to the wide canal diameter. Recent evidences have revealed that functional outcomes in the long term may be equivalent between operative and nonoperative management for neurologically intact thoracolumbar burst fractures. Nevertheless, consensus has not been met regarding the optimal treatment strategy for those with neurological deficits. The present review article summarizes the contemporary evidences to discuss the role of nonoperative management in the presence of neurological deficits and the optimal timing of decompression surgery for neurological recovery. In summary, although operative management is generally recommended for thoracolumbar fracture with significant neurological deficits, the evidence is weak, and nonoperative management can also be an option for those with solitary radicular symptoms. With regards to timing of operative management, high-quality studies comparing early and delayed intervention are lacking. Extrapolating from the evidence in cervical spine injury leads to an assumption that early intervention would also be beneficial for neurological recovery, but further studies are warranted to answer these questions.