A comprehensive classification of thoracic and lumbar injuries

Eur Spine J. 1994;3(4):184-201. doi: 10.1007/BF02221591.


In view of the current level of knowledge and the numerous treatment possibilities, none of the existing classification systems of thoracic and lumbar injuries is completely satisfactory. As a result of more than a decade of consideration of the subject matter and a review of 1445 consecutive thoracolumbar injuries, a comprehensive classification of thoracic and lumbar injuries is proposed. The classification is primarily based on pathomorphological criteria. Categories are established according to the main mechanism of injury, pathomorphological uniformity, and in consideration of prognostic aspects regarding healing potential. The classification reflects a progressive scale of morphological damage by which the degree of instability is determined. The severity of the injury in terms of instability is expressed by its ranking within the classification system. A simple grid, the 3-3-3 scheme of the AO fracture classification, was used in grouping the injuries. This grid consists of three types: A, B, and C. Every type has three groups, each of which contains three subgroups with specifications. The types have a fundamental injury pattern which is determined by the three most important mechanisms acting on the spine: compression, distraction, and axial torque. Type A (vertebral body compression) focuses on injury patterns of the vertebral body. Type B injuries (anterior and posterior element injuries with distraction) are characterized by transverse disruption either anteriorly or posteriorly. Type C lesions (anterior and posterior element injuries with rotation) describe injury patterns resulting from axial torque. The latter are most often superimposed on either type A or type B lesions. Morphological criteria are predominantly used for further subdivision of the injuries. Severity progresses from type A through type C as well as within the types, groups, and further subdivisions. The 1445 cases were analyzed with regard to the level of the main injury, the frequency of types and groups, and the incidence of neurological deficit. Most injuries occurred around the thoracolumbar junction. The upper and lower end of the thoracolumbar spine and the T10 level were most infrequently injured. Type A fractures were found in 66.1%, type B in 14.5%, and type C in 19.4% of the cases. Stable type A1 fractures accounted for 34.7% of the total. Some injury patterns are typical for certain sections of the thoracolumbar spine and others for age groups. The neurological deficit, ranging from complete paraplegia to a single root lesion, was evaluated in 1212 cases.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Spinal Fractures / classification
  • Spinal Injuries / classification*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / injuries*