It is well established that traumatic spinal dislocations (AO Type C injuries) should be surgically treated. However, no recent comparative study of surgical versus non-surgical management of type C injuries was found attesting the superiority of surgical treatment.
Due to the lack of information about the natural history of non-surgical management of type C injuries, Joaquim et al., evaluated the outcome of historical conservative treatment of type C injuries.
An extensive manual search of articles was performed in the Pubmed Database. They included articles that reported the clinical and/ or the radiological outcome of non-surgical management of thoracic and/ or lumbar spinal fracture-dislocations.
Three well described retrospective studies where fracture-dislocations of the thoracolumbar spine were managed non-surgically were included. Non-surgical management typically consisted in postural reduction and prolonged bed rest (about 10-13 weeks on average). Residual deformity was common, and some studies reported a high rate of post treatment pain syndromes. Some studies reported surgery for gibbus deformity after conservative treatment or persistent instability requiring further bed rest. Neurological deterioration was rare, and some patients had some improvement, although the vast majority of the patients had persistent, severe neurological deficits.
Compared with historical non-surgical care, surgery for type C injuries decreases the chances of post-operative pain, late spinal deformity and also allowed early rehabilitation, once no bed restriction is necessary. Ethical issues based on this historical analysis may preclude performing a comparative study of non-surgical versus surgical management of these injuries in the modern spine era 1).