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Eur Spine J. 2013 Oct;22(10):2157-66. doi: 10.1007/s00586-012-2624-1. Epub 2012 Dec 22.

A methodological systematic review of early versus late stabilization of thoracolumbar spine fractures.

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Department of Orthopaedics Institute, Tianjin Hospital, 406 Jiefang Nan Street, Hexi District, Tianjin, 300211, China.



The optimal timing of stabilization in patients with traumatic thoracolumbar fractures remains controversial. There is currently a lack of consensus on the timing of surgical stabilization, which is limited by the reality that a randomized controlled trial to evaluate early versus late stabilization is difficult to perform. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine the benefits, safety and costs of early stabilization compared with late stabilization using data available in the current literature.


An electronic literature search was performed in Medline, Embase, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for relevant studies evaluating the timing of surgery in patients with thoracolumbar fractures. Two reviewers independently analyzed and selected each study on the basis of the eligibility criteria. The quality of the included studies was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system (GRADE). Any disagreements were resolved by consensus.


Ten studies involving 2,512 subjects were identified. These studies demonstrated that early stabilization shortened the hospital length of stay, intensive care unit length of stay, ventilator days and reduced morbidity and hospital expenses for patients with thoracic fractures. However, reduced morbidity and hospital expenses were not observed with stabilization of lumbar fractures. Owing to the very low level of evidence, no conclusion could be made regarding the effect of early stabilization on mortality.


We could adhere to the recommendation that patients with traumatic thoracolumbar fractures should undergo early stabilization, which may reduce the hospital length of stay, intensive care unit length of stay, ventilator days, morbidity and hospital expenses, particularly when the thoracic spine is involved. Individual patient characteristics should be concerned carefully. However, the definite conclusion cannot be made due to the heterogeneity of the included studies and low level of evidence. Further prospective studies are required to confirm whether there are benefits to early stabilization compared with late stabilization.

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