Thoracolumbar Junction Stabilization

Published on 02/04/2015 by admin

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Last modified 02/04/2015

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Chapter 38 Thoracolumbar Junction Stabilization


The use of spinal instrumentation for anterior column reconstruction is known to improve fusion rates and provide immediate stability at the thoracolumbar junction. Anterior instrumentation for the thoracolumbar spine was first applied by Dwyer and colleagues for the correction of scoliosis, using the cable and screw system.1 Zielke and colleagues modified the Dwyer system by substituting a 3.2-mm single threaded rod with nuts for the cable.2 Kostuik has reported the anterior spinal fixation system using a Dwyer-Hall vertebral plate and Harrington distraction rod (anterior Kostuik-Harrington system) in the treatment of spinal fracture3 (Fig. 38-1).

The stiffer one-rod systems were developed in the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital (TSRH) and anterior ISOLA systems. In the TSRH system, the screws are rigidly attached to a smooth single rod (6.3 mm) with a side connection (cantilever beam with a fixed moment arm), which lessens the need for bicortical purchase. In anterior ISOLA, a spiked plate is used for screw fixation with a single rod (6.3 mm).

Kaneda and co-workers developed a technique of spiked vertebral plates attached to vertebral bodies via screws interconnected by rigid rods. The Kaneda Smooth Rod Spine System (Kaneda SR™; DePuy Spine, Raynham, MA) consists of rods and four constrained bicortical screws that allow compression and distraction (Fig. 38-2).

A number of anterior devices have been developed and used for thoracolumbar junction fixation. The two major types—anterior plates and dual rod systems—have been accepted for their versatility and ease of use. In general, dual rod designs may offer greater adjustability and control over screw placement and increased load sharing. Plate systems are designed to be stiffer and less prone to fatigue failure, but there are theoretical concerns and unanswered questions regarding the risk of pseudoarthrosis and device-related osteopenia with very rigid spinal implants.

For single-rod fixation, increasing rod diameter neither improves the stiffness nor affects rod-screw strain. The dual-rod fixation provides greater construct stiffness and less rod-screw strain compared with single-rod fixation.

The transverse coupler significantly increases construct stiffness in all modes of motion compared with the same construct without couplers. Biomechanical stiffness of anterior dual-rod instrumentation proved to be comparable to the posterior long-segment construct.



An assembly of the screw-rod system for anterior fixation of the thoracic and lumbar spine consists of two spinal plates, four screws, two rods, and two transverse rod couplers.

Screw Insertion

The awl may be used to create the pilot screw hole. The awl will create a 15-mm deep channel into the bone to guide the tap and screw. Following the awl’s path, the tapping screw is inserted (Fig. 38-5). The anterior and posterior screws’ trajectory should be arranged in a convergent fashion. The converging angle between them is about 8 degrees. On the coronal plane, they should be arrayed in parallel with the adjacent endplate. For maximum rigidity in an anterior spinal construct, the ideal device is one that provides graft compression by means of four bicortical screws constrained to the rods. Anterior screws may fail to bear axial loads effectively because of parallelogram translational deformation. A simple convergent insertion of the screws should prevent construct failure of this mechanism. Screws should be inserted until the screw head comes into contact with the staple. Screw openings should be parallel to the spine to allow for insertion of the rods. In principle, the screw is positioned for the bicortical purchase. Bicortical screws are significantly stronger in resisting pullout than are unicortical screws (Fig. 38-6). Advancing an anterior vertebral body screw to engage the second cortex increases resistance to pullout by 25–44%, depending on vertebral bone mineral density.5