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Aim: To evaluate the outcome of late anterior decompression in patients with dorsal and lumbar spinal injuries with neurological deficit.

Background: Anterior decompression and bone graft stabilisation of the spinal injuries allows direct decompression of the spinal canal and provides favourable environment for neurological and functional recovery. Proponents of both early and delayed decompression have shown favourable results. However, what is unclear is the timing of the surgery.

Methods: A prospective study of 12 patients with spinal injuries, who had anterior decompression a minimum of 4 weeks after the injury (mean 7.5 weeks). 5 had incomplete and 7 had complete neurological deficit at presentation. The indication for the operation was persistent neurological deficit with retropulsed fragment of bone causing canal compromise. Anterior stablisation after decompression was by means of a tri-cortical iliac crest graft or a rib graft.

Results: 8 males, 4 females with average age 26.8 years. 7 lumbar and 5 dorsal spine injuries. Average follow-up of 5.5 years with minimum of 5 years. Post-operative improvement was seen only in patients who sustained injury at the lumbar level, with 6 of the 7 patients regaining normal bladder and bowel function after decompression. Immediate post-operative improvements obtained in the Kyphotic angle were not maintained probably due to the settling of the graft, so posterior or anterior stabilisation may be needed in addition to anterior bone grafting to prevent worsening of the kyphotic angle.

Conclusion: Delayed anterior decompression of the lumbar spine in patients who had spinal fractures, is an effective procedure, which may help neurological recovery, especially of the bowel and bladder function.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Sue Woodward, Secreteriat, Britspine, Vale Clinic, Hensol Park, Vale of Glamorgan, CF72 8JY Wales.