Functional outcome of burst fractures of the thoracolumbar spine managed non-operatively, with early ambulation, evaluated using the load sharing classification.

Published online: Jun 27 2002

Aligizakis A, Katonis P, Stergiopoulos K, Galanakis I, Karabekios S, Hadjipavlou A.

Department of Orthopaedics, University Hospital of Crete, Greece.


The purpose of this prospective study was to assess the functional outcome of conservative treatment with early ambulation of thoracolumbar burst fractures, using the Load Sharing classification. From 1997 to 2001, 60 consecutive patients with single-level thoracolumbar spinal injury, with no neurological impairment, were classified according to the Load Sharing scoring and were managed non-operatively. A custom-made thoracolumbosacral orthosis was worn by all patients for six months, and early ambulation was recommended. Several radiological parameters were evaluated; the Denis Pain and Work Scale was used to assess the clinical outcome. The average follow-up period was 42 months (range, 24 to 55 months). During this period the spinal canal occupation was significantly reduced. Other radiological parameters, such as Cobb's angle and anterior vertebral body compression, showed loss of fracture reduction, which was not statistically significant. However, the functional outcome was satisfactory in 55 of 60 patients with no complications recorded on completion of treatment. Load Sharing scoring is a reliable and easy-to-use classification for the conservative treatment and prognosis of thoracolumbar spinal fractures. Because of the three characteristics of the fracture site this classification can also predict the structural results of spinal injury, such as posttraumatic kyphosis, as well as the functional outcome in conservatively treated patients.