Daniel Briem, Aryan Behechtnejad, Alexander Ouchmaev, Matthias Morfeld, Karin Schermelleh-Engel, Michael Amling, Johannes M. Rueger

November 2007, Volume 16, Issue 11, pp 1925 - 1933 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-007-0395-x

First Online: 23 May 2007

Fractures of the thoracolumbar spine rank among the severest injuries of the human skeleton. Especially in younger patients they often result from high-energy accidents. Recently, a shift in paradigm towards more aggressive treatment strategies including anterior procedures could be observed. However, so far only few data exist reflecting the quality of life (QoL) after such injuries. The aim of this study was to evaluate medium-term QoL and further to identify factors that influence the clinical outcome in patients with fractures of the thoracolumbar spine. Data of 906 patients who were treated during a 10-year period in our institution were evaluated retrospectively. Only patients with single-level traumatic injuries aged between 18 and 65 years without neurological deficits, concomitant injuries of other locations and internal comorbidities were included into the investigation (n = 204). Three different treatment groups (i.e. non-operative, dorsal and dorsoventral stabilisation) were compared to healthy controls as well as different pain populations. The QoL was assessed using established questionnaires (SF-36, HFAQ, VAS-Spinescore, PRQ, and PTSD). Sixty-five percent of the included patients (n = 133) were studied at an average follow-up of 5.3 ± 1.7 years after injury. All treatment groups revealed an identical gender and age distribution. More severe and unstable injuries were found in the surgical groups associated with higher treatment costs and a longer inability to work. Compared to healthy controls, QoL was compromised to the same extent in all groups. Furthermore, all patients treated in this study did significantly better than low back pain individuals with regard to QoL and pain regulation parameters. In our study, patients with thoracolumbar spine fractures showed a reduced QoL compared to healthy controls. Thus, patients do not seem to regain their former QoL. However, the level of discomfort was comparably low in all groups, even in patients with more severe injuries requiring extensive surgery. Overall, outcome and QoL after traumatic fractures of the thoracolumbar spine rather seem to be determined by the severity of injury than by pain regulation or other psychosocial factors which is likely the case in low back pain disorders.

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