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J Trauma. 2005 Jan;58(1):15-21.

The effect of early spine fixation on non-neurologic outcome.

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  • 1University of Florida Health Science Center-Jacksonville, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Critical Care, Jacksonville, Florida 32209, USA.



It has been shown that spinal fracture fixation within 3 days can reduce the incidence of pneumonia, length of stay, number of ventilator days, and hospital charges. Our institutional protocol calls for surgical stabilization of spinal fractures within 3 days of admission. We hypothesized that compliance with an early spinal fracture fixation protocol (within 3 days of admission) would improve non-neurologic outcome in patients with spinal fractures.


The trauma registry was queried for the period January 1988 through October 2001 to identify patients with spinal fractures requiring surgical stabilization. Patients were analyzed to determine the compliance with our protocol and to determine whether early spinal fixation can reduce the incidence of pneumonia, reduce length of stay, and reduce mortality.


1,741 patients with spinal fractures were identified. 299 (17.2%) required surgical stabilization. 174 (58.2%) had surgical stabilization within 3 days while 125 (41.8%) had surgical stabilization greater than 3 days from admission. There were no significant differences between the two groups with regards to age (37.9 versus 42.5), admission GCS (14.1 versus 13.9), or ISS (22 versus 20.8). The incidence of pneumonia was similar in both groups (21.8 versus 25.6%). The mortality was higher in the early group as compared with the late group (6.9 versus 2.5%), although it did not reach statistical significance. The hospital length of stay was significantly shorter (14.3 versus 21.1) for patients who had early spine fixation, however there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups with regards to intensive care unit length of stay (7.2 versus 7.9) or number of ventilator days (5.02 versus 1.9). Patients who were severely injured (ISS > 25) also had a significantly shorter hospital length of stay (19.6 versus 29.1) if they underwent early spinal fixation. Patients with thoracic spine injury and associated spinal cord injury had a significantly shorter HLOS (10.1 versus 30.5), ICULOS (2.3 versus 13.1), and lower incidence of pneumonia (6.5 versus 33.3%).


Reasonable compliance with an early spinal fracture fixation protocol produced some outcome improvements in non-neurologic outcome. Early spine stabilization reduced hospital length of stay in all patients. Patients with thoracic spine trauma and a spinal cord injury had the greatest benefit in reduction of morbidity, HLOS and ICULOS from early stabilization. There was a trend toward poorer outcome in some groups with early spine stabilization. A rigid protocol requiring early surgical spine stabilization in all patients does not appear justified. Although early spine stabilization should be performed whenever possible to reduce hospital length of stay, the timing of this procedure should be individualized to allow patients with the most severe physiologic derangements to be optimized preoperatively.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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