Management options in thoracolumbar burst fractures

Patrick W. Hitchon, James C. Torner, Souheil F. Haddad, Kenneth A. Follett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Both surgery and recumbency have been adopted in the treatment of spinal fractures. Herein we present the indications for each, and our experience with thoracolumbar junction (T12, L1 and L2) burst fractures. METHODS: Sixty-eight patients with thoracolumbar burst fractures were treated operatively in 36 cases, and nonoperatively in 32 with recumbency for 1-6 weeks. Treatment was based on clinical and radiological criteria. Eighty-one percent of the recumbency patients, but only 14% of the surgical patients were intact on admission. Patients were followed for a mean ± SD of 9 ± 10 months in the recumbency group, and 21 ± 21 months in the surgical group. RESULTS: Neurological improvement and progressive angular deformity occurred in both groups. The cost of recumbency in our patients was nearly half that of those who required surgery, though the length of hospitalization between the two groups was similar at 1 month ± 2 weeks. CONCLUSION: The above study emphasizes that the selection of operative versus nonoperative treatment in burst fractures should not be random but based on clinical as well as radiological criteria. Recumbency is favored in patients who are intact, with angular deformity less than 20°, a residual spinal canal greater than 50% of normal, and an anterior body height exceeding 50% of the posterior height. Surgical intervention is generally indicated in patients with partial neurological deficit, and those with severe instability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-627
Number of pages9
JournalSurgical neurology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spinal stabilization instrumentation
  • Spinal trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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