Nonoperative management in neurologically intact thoracolumbar burst fractures: Clinical and radiographic outcomes

Patrick W. Hitchon*, Kingsley Abode-Iyamah, Nader S. Dahdaleh, Christopher Shaffrey, Jennifer Noeller, Wenzhuan He, Toshio Moritani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Study Design. Retrospective cohort study. Objective. The identification of factors that lead to the failure of nonoperative management in neurologically intact thoracolumbar burst fractures. Summary of Background Data. The treatment of thoracolumbar burst fractures (TLBF) can be controversial, particularly in the neurologically intact. Surgery for intact burst fractures has been advocated for early mobilization and a shorter hospital stay. These goals, however, have not always been achieved, rejuvenating an interest in nonoperative treatment. Methods. Sixty-eight neurologically intact patients with burst fractures of the thoracolumbar junction (T11-L2), and a thoracolumbar injury classification and severity score (TLICS) of 2, were treated at our institution. Based on CT scans, patients were scored based on the load-sharing classification (LSC) scale. Initial treatment consisted of bracing in clamshell thoracolumbar orthosis and gradual mobilization. Results. Owing to pain limiting mobilization, 18 patients failed nonoperative management and required instrumentation. Those who failed nonsurgical management were significantly more kyphotic (88±10) and stenotic (52%±14%) than those successfully treated nonoperatively (38±7 and 63±12%, respectively). The LSC score of those undergoing surgery (6.9±1.1) was also greater than those successfully treated nonoperatively (5.8±1.3, P=0.006). Length of hospitalization was longer, and hospital charges higher in those requiring surgery compared to the nonoperative group. At follow-up there was no difference between groups in the visual analog score for pain (VAS) or the Oswestry disability index. Conclusion. Owing to pain limiting mobilization, a quarter of neurologically intact patients with thoracolumbar burst fractures and a TLICS score of 2 failed nonsurgical management. The greater the kyphosis, stenosis, and fragmentation of the fracture, the more likely patients required surgery. In addition to the TLICS classification, other radiographic and clinical parameters should be included in selecting appropriate treatment strategy. The cost savings with nonoperative treatment of intact burst fractures, when appropriate, are significant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-489
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 4 2016


  • Burst fracture
  • Recumbency
  • Spinal fracture
  • Spinal instrumentation
  • Spinal trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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