Successful short-segment instrumentation and fusion for thoracolumbar spine fractures: a consecutive 41/2-year series

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2000 May 1;25(9):1157-70. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200005010-00018.


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.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bone Screws
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Fractures / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion / instrumentation*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / surgery
  • Weight-Bearing