Study Design. A retrospective study to review the results of unstable thoracolumbar burst fractures managed with casting or bracing end early ambulation in neurologically healthy patients. Objectives. To determine the clinical outcome of patients with unstable burst fractures of the thoracolumbar spine treated without surgery, and to identify any variables that may adversely influence the final outcome. Summary of Background Data. The management of unstable fractures of the thoracolumbar spine as described by Bedbrook involves a period of recumbency for 6-8 weeks followed by gradual mobilization. Newer techniques of surgical stabilization of the fracture and decompression of the neural elements have become popular because immediate stability of the spine is created and because the need for prolonged bedrest and hospitalization is eliminated. There have been only three reports in the literature describing the nonoperative management of these fractures with early mobilization; some authors believe that this is appropriate only if the posterior column is intact. The results reported in the literature of nonoperative management of thoracolumbar burst fractures have indicated that this is an effective method of management. Methods. A retrospective review of 26 patients with unstable burst fractures in the thoracolumbar region (T11- L2) was performed; follow-up evaluation was obtained from 24 patients. Clinical follow-up examination was performed by the use of a questionnaire in which the patients were asked to rate their pain, ability to work, ability to perform in recreational activities, and their overall satisfaction with treatment. Results. Mean follow-up time for the 24 patients was 34.3 months. Mean duration of hospitalization was 8.2 days: those patients who did not have injuries other than their spine fracture had a mean hospitalization time of 5.9 days. Kyphotic deformity could be corrected with hyperextension casting but tended to recur during the course of mobilization and healing. No correlation was found between kyphosis and clinical outcome. At final follow- up evaluation, 19 patients (79%) had little or no pain; 18 patients (75%) had returned to work; 18 (75%) stated that they had little or no restrictions in their ability to work, and 16 (67%) stated that they had little or no restrictions in their ability to participate in recreational activities. Only one patient (4%) reported being dissatisfied with the initial nonoperative treatment of his spine fracture. Ten patients were found to have evidence of spinous process widening on plain films; there was no significant difference in the clinical or radiographic outcome of these 10 patients when compared with the 14 others who did not have interspinous widening. Conclusions. Nonoperative management of thoracolumbar burst fractures with hyperextension casting or bracing was proven to be a safe and effective method of treatment in selected patients. Clinical results were favorable: no neurologic deterioration was observed; hospitalization times were minimized, and patient satisfaction was high. The authors do not believe that ligamentous injury of the posterior column is a contraindication to nonoperative management of thoracolumbar burst fractures.
- burst fracture