To investigate the clinical and radiological outcomes of pedicle screw removal after successful fusion of thoracolumbar burst fractures.
Implant removal is a common procedure in orthopedic surgery, although the benefits of and indications for removal remain controversial. Previous studies on pedicle screw removal have reported conflicting outcomes, because the study subjects and surgical goals were heterogeneous in nature.
We studied 45 consecutive patients who underwent implant removal and a control cohort of 45 age- and sex-matched patients who retained their spinal implants after successful posterior fusion of thoracolumbar burst fractures using pedicle screw instrument. In most cases, long-segment instrumentation with short-segment posterior fusion was performed. The mean elapsed period prior to implant removal after index fracture surgery was 18.3 ± 17.6 months. A visual analogue scale for back pain was applied, the Oswestry disability index calculated, and radiological parameters derived at the time of implant removal and 1 and 2 years postoperatively obtained. These data were compared with those of the control group evaluated at the same times after index fracture surgery.
Patient demographics, mechanisms of injury, fracture morphologies, and the outcomes of index fracture surgery were similar between the 2 groups. The mean visual analogue scale and Oswestry disability index scores were better at both the 1- and 2-year follow-ups in the implant removal group than in the control group (all P values = 0.000). The segmental motion angle of the implant removal group was 1.6° ± 1.5° at the time of implant removal, and increased significantly to 5.8° ± 3.9° at 1-year follow-up (P = 0.000), and was maintained at this level at the 2-year follow-up (5.9° ± 4.1°) (P = 0.000).
In patients treated successfully for thoracolumbar burst fractures, pedicle screw removal is beneficial because it alleviates pain and disability. Restoration of the segmental motion angle after implant removal may contribute to the clinical improvement.