Nonoperative Management in Neurologically Intact Thoracolumbar Burst Fractures: Clinical and Radiographic Outcomes.


Study design

Retrospective cohort study.


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.


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.


Owing to pain limiting mobilization, 18 patients failed nonoperative management and required instrumentation. Those who failed nonsurgical management were significantly more kyphotic (8° ± 10) and stenotic (52% ± 14%) than those successfully treated nonoperatively (3° ± 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.


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.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Hitchon, Patrick W, Kingsley Abode-Iyamah, Nader S Dahdaleh, Christopher Shaffrey, Jennifer Noeller, Wenzhuan He and Toshio Moritani (2016). Nonoperative Management in Neurologically Intact Thoracolumbar Burst Fractures: Clinical and Radiographic Outcomes. Spine, 41(6). pp. 483–489. 10.1097/brs.0000000000001253 Retrieved from

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Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.

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