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Timing of surgical fixation in traumatic spinal fractures

a retrospective cohort study

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The timing of surgical fixation in spinal fractures is a contentious topic. Existing literature suggests that early stabilization leads to reduced morbidity, improved neurological outcomes, and shorter hospital stay. However, the quality of evidence is low and equivocal with regard to the safety of early fixation in the severely injured patient. This paper compares complication profiles between spinal fractures treated with early fixation and those treated with late fixation.


All patients transferred to a national tertiary spinal referral centre for primary surgical fixation of unstable spinal injuries without preoperative neurological deficit between 1 July 2016 and 20 October 2017 were eligible for inclusion. Data were collected retrospectively. Patients were divided into early and late cohorts based on timing from initial trauma to first spinal operation. Early fixation was defined as within 72 hours, and late fixation beyond 72 hours.


In total, 86 patients underwent spinal surgery in this period. Age ranged from 16 to 88 years. Mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) was higher in the early stabilization cohort (p = 0.020). Age was the sole significant independent variable in predicting morbidity on multiple regression analysis (p < 0.003). There was no significant difference in complication rates based on timing of surgical stabilization (p = 0.398) or ISS (p = 0.482).


Our results suggest that these patients are suitable for early appropriate care with spinal precautions and delayed definitive surgical stabilization. Earlier surgery conferred no morbidity benefit and had no impact on length of stay.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(5):627–631.

Correspondence should be sent to John Mahon. E-mail:

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