Fifty-five patients who had sustained a burst fracture of the lumbar spine were followed for a mean of seventy-nine months (range, twenty-four to 192 months) after the injury. Thirty patients had been managed non-operatively with a short period of bed rest followed by protected mobilization. The remaining twenty-five patients had been managed operatively: eight, with posterior arthrodesis with long-segment hook-and-rod fixation; eight, with posterior arthrodesis with short-segment transpedicular fixation; six, with posterior arthrodesis and instrumentation followed by anterior decompression and arthrodesis; and three, with anterior decompression and arthrodesis.Thirty-six patients had been neurologically intact at the time of presentation and had remained so throughout the follow-up period. No neurological deterioration or symptoms of late spinal stenosis were seen. Isolated partial single-nerve-root deficits resolved regardless of the method of treatment. Patients who had had a complete single or a multiple-nerve-root paralysis seemed to have benefited from anterior decompression.Although the anatomical results as seen on the most recent radiographs were superior for the group that had been managed operatively with long posterior fixation or anterior and posterior arthrodesis, the most recent pain scores and the functional outcomes were similar for all treatment groups. At the latest follow-up evaluation, some loss of spinal alignment was noted in the patients who had been managed with short transpedicular fixation; the alignment at the most recent follow-up examination was comparable with that in the patients who had been managed non-operatively. For the patients who had had non-operative treatment, we were unable to predict the deformity at the time of follow-up on the basis of the initial diagnostic radiographs. The clinical outcome was not related to the deformity at the latest follow-up evaluation.On the basis of the results of our study, we recommend non-operative treatment for patients who do not have neurological dysfunction or who have an isolated partial nerve-root deficit at the time of presentation. For patients who have a multiple-nerve-root paralysis, anterior decompression is indicated.