Is the AO spine thoracolumbar injury classification system reliable and practical? a systematic review


AOTLIC ; ATLICS ; AO ; spine ; thoraco-lumbar ; injury classification ; systematic review, reliability

Published online: Jun 15 2021

Zion Hwang, James Houston, Evangelos M. Fragakis, Cristina Lupu, Jason Bernard, Tim Bishop, Darren F. Lui

From the Department of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, St. George’s University Hospital, London, United Kingdom


Controversy surrounding the classification of thoracolumbar injuries has given rise to various classification systems over the years, including the most recent AOSpine Thoracolumbar Injury Classification System (ATLICS). This systematic review aims to provide an up-to-date evaluation of the literature, including assessment of a further three studies not analysed in previous reviews. In doing so, this is the first systematic review to include the reliability among non-spine subspecialty professionals and to document the wide variety between reliability across studies, particularly with regard to sub-type classification. Relevant studies were found via a systematic search of PubMed, EBESCO, Cochrane and Web of Science. Data extraction and quality assessment were conducted in line with Cochrane Collaboration guidelines. Twelve articles assessing the reliability of ATLICS were included in this review. The overall inter-observer reliability varied from fair to substantial, but the three additional studies in this review, compared to previous reviews, presented on average only fair reliability. The greatest variation of results was seen in A1 and B3 subtypes. Least reliably classified on average was A4 subtype. This systematic review concludes that ATLICS is reliable for the majority of injuries, but the variability within subtypes suggests the need for further research in assessing the needs of users in order to increase familiarity with ATLICS or perhaps the necessity to include more subtype-specific criteria into the system. Further research is also recommended on the reliability of modifiers, neurological classification and the application of ATLICS in a paediatric context.