Total motion generated in the unstable thoracolumbar spine during management of the typical trauma patient: a comparison of methods in a cadaver model

Laboratory investigation

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  • 1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Texas, Houston, Texas;
  • 2 Department of Orthopaedics, Georgia Health Sciences University, Augusta, Georgia;
  • 3 Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Florida, Gainesville;
  • 4 Department of Orthopaedics, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida; and
  • 5 Department of Orthopaedics, University of Rochester, New York
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Object

The proper prehospital and inpatient management of patients with unstable spinal injuries is critical for prevention of secondary neurological compromise. The authors sought to analyze the amount of motion generated in the unstable thoracolumbar spine during various maneuvers and transfers that a trauma patient would typically be subjected to prior to definitive fixation.

Methods

Five fresh cadavers with surgically created unstable L-1 burst fractures were tested. The amount of angular motion between the T-12 and L-2 vertebral segments was measured using a 3D electromagnetic motion analysis device. A complete sequence of maneuvers and transfers was then performed that a patient would be expected to go through from the time of injury until surgical fixation. These maneuvers and transfers included spine board placement and removal, bed transfers, lateral therapy, and turning the patient prone onto the operating table. During each of these, the authors performed what they believed to be the most commonly used versus the best techniques for preventing undesirable motion at the injury level.

Results

When placing a spine board there was more motion in all 3 planes with the log-roll technique, and this difference reached statistical significance for axial rotation (p = 0.018) and lateral bending (p = 0.003). Using logrolling for spine board removal resulted in increased motion again, and this was statistically significant for flexion-extension (p = 0.014). During the bed transfer and lateral therapy, the log-roll technique resulted in more motion in all 3 planes (p ≤ 0.05). When turning the cadavers prone for surgery there was statistically more angular motion in each plane for manually turning the patient versus the Jackson table turn (p ≤ 0.01). The total motion was decreased by almost 50% in each plane when using an alternative to the log-roll techniques during the complete sequence (p ≤ 0.007).

Conclusions

Although it is unknown how much motion in the unstable spine is necessary to cause secondary neurological injury, the accepted tenet is to minimize motion as much as possible. This study has demonstrated the angular motion incurred by the unstable thoracolumbar spine as experienced by the typical trauma patient from the field to positioning in the operating room using the best and most commonly used techniques. As previously reported, using the log-roll technique consistently results in unwanted motion at the injured spinal segment.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Mark L. Prasarn, M.D., University of Texas, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, 6400 Fannin Street, Suite 1700, Houston, Texas 77030. email: markprasarn@yahoo.com.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online March 2, 2012; DOI: 10.3171/2012.2.SPINE11621.

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