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Treatment of Thoracolumbar Burst Fractures with Variable Screw Placement or Isola Instrumentation and Arthrodesis: Case Series and Literature Review

Alvine, Gregory F MD; Swain, James M MD; Asher, Marc A MD; Burton, Douglas C MD

Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques: August 2004 - Volume 17 - Issue 4 - p 251-264
doi: 10.1097/01.bsd.0000095827.98982.88
Original Article

Background: The controversy of burst fracture surgical management is addressed in this retrospective case study and literature review.

Methods: The series consisted of 40 consecutive patients, index included, with 41 fractures treated with stiff, limited segment transpedicular bone-anchored instrumentation and arthrodesis from 1987 through 1994.

Results: No major acute complications such as death, paralysis, or infection occurred. For the 30 fractures with pre- and postoperative computed tomography studies, spinal canal compromise was 61% and 32%, respectively. Neurologic function improved in 7 of 14 patients (50%) and did not worsen in any. The principal problem encountered was screw breakage, which occurred in 16 of the 41 (39%) instrumented fractures. As we have previously reported, transpedicular anterior bone graft augmentation significantly decreased variable screw placement (VSP) implant breakage. However, it did not prevent Isola implant breakage in two–motion segment constructs. Compared with VSP, Isola provided better sagittal plane realignment and constructs that have been found to be significantly stiffer. Unplanned reoperation was necessary in 9 of the 40 patients (23%). At 1- and 2-year follow-up, 95% and 79% of patients were available for study, and a satisfactory outcome was achieved in 84% and 79%, respectively. These satisfaction and reoperation rates are consistent with the literature of the time.

Conclusions: Based on these observations and the loads to which implant constructs are exposed following posterior realignment and stabilization of burst fractures, we recommend that three– or four–motion segment constructs, rather than two motion, be used. To save valuable motion segments, planned construct shortening can be used. An alternative is sequential or staged anterior corpectomy and structural grafting.

From the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS.

Received for publication April 14, 2003;

accepted September 4, 2003.

Dr. Asher has a conflict of interest because he is a part owner of Isola Implants, Inc., which has an exclusive license agreement with DePuy Spine under which DePuy pays royalities to Isola Implants, with respect to the sale of spinal fixation devices and related products.

Reprints: Marc A. Asher, MD, Section of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160-7387 (e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.