Object. Thoracolumbar burst fractures frequently require surgical intervention. Although the use of either anterior or posterior instrumentation has advantages and disadvantages, there have been few studies in which these two approaches have been compared biomechanically.
Methods. Ten human cadaveric spines were subjected to subtotal L-3 corpectomy. In five spines placement of L-3 wooden strut grafts with lateral L2–4 dual rod and screw instrumentation was performed. Five other spines underwent L1–5 pedicle screw fixation. The spines were fatigued between steps of the experiment. The spines were load tested with pure moments of 1.5, 3, 4.5, and 6 Nm in the intact state and after placement of instrumentation in six degrees of freedom (flexion, extension, right and left lateral bending, and right and left axial rotation).
In axial rotation posterior instrumentation significantly increased spinal rigidity compared with that of the intact state, whereas anterior instrumentation did not. Combined anterior—posterior instrumentation did not significantly increase the rigidity of the spine when compared with anterior or posterior instrumentation alone. Posterior instrumentation alone provided a greater reduction in angular rotation compared with anterior instrumentation alone in all degrees of freedom; however, statistical significance was achieved only in extension at 6 Nm.
Conclusions. The increased rigidity provided by pedicle screw instrumentation compared with the intact state or with anterior instrumentation is due to the longer construct spanning five levels and the three-column engagement of the pedicle screws. The decision to use anterior or posterior instrumentation should be based on the clinical necessity of canal decompression and correction of angulation.