Because of a lack of evidence, the appropriate timing of surgical stabilization of thoracic and lumbar spine injuries in severely injured patients is still controversial. Data of a large international trauma register were analyzed to investigate the medical care situation of unstable spinal column fractures in patients with multiple injuries, so as to examine the outcome related to timing of surgical stabilization.
Data sets of the Trauma Registry of German Trauma Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Unfallchirurgie [DGU]) (1993–2010) were analyzed. The Trauma Registry of DGU is a prospective, multicenter register that provides information on severely injured patients. All patients with an Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 16 or greater caused by blunt trauma, subsequent treatment of 7 days or more, 16 years or older, and thoracic or lumbar spine injuries (spine Abbreviated Injury Scale [AIS] score ≥ 2) were included in our analysis. Patients with relevant spine injuries classified as having a spine AIS score of 3 or greater were further analyzed in terms of whether they got early (<72 hours) or late (>72 hours) surgical treatment due to unstable spinal column fractures.
Of 24,974 patients, 8,994 (36.0%) had documented spinal injuries (spine AIS score ≥ 2). A total of 1,309 patients who sustained relevant thoracic spine injuries (spine AIS score ≥ 3) and 994 patients who experienced lumbar spine trauma and classified as having spine AIS score of 3 or greater were more precisely analyzed. Of these, 68.2% and 71.0%, respectively, received an early thoracic or lumbar spine fixation. With an increase in spinal injury severity, an increase in early stabilization in the thoracic and lumbar spine was seen. In the group of patients with early surgical stabilization, significantly shorter hospital stays, shorter intensive care unit stays, fewer days on mechanical ventilation, and lower rates of sepsis were seen. In the case that additional body regions were affected, for example, when patients were critically ill, a delayed spinal stabilization was more often performed.
A spinal stabilization at an early stage (<72 hours) is presumed to be beneficial. Although some patients may require delay due to necessary medical improvement, every reasonable effort should be made to treat patients with instable spinal column fractures as soon as possible. If an early surgical treatment is feasible, severely injured patients may benefit from a shorter period of hospital treatment and a lower rate of complications.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Therapeutic study, level III.