Nonsurgical Treatments for the Pain of Spine Fractures Caused by
For people who have already experienced spinal fractures caused by
osteoporosis, there have been few effective treatments available until
recently. Now, two safe, nonsurgical, interventional radiology
treatments offer hope for those suffering from the pain of
vertebral fractures—vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.
Vertebroplasty is an outpatient procedure using X-ray
imaging and conscious sedation. The interventional radiologist inserts a
needle about the width of a small straw through a nick in the skin of
the back, directing it under fluoroscopy (continuous moving X-ray
imaging) into the fractured vertebra. The physician then injects the
medical-grade bone cement into the vertebra. The cement hardens,
stabilizes the bone and prevents further collapse. This stops the pain
caused by bone rubbing against bone.
Kyphoplasty is a slightly more involved technique for
treating painful compression fractures of the spine. In this procedure,
a balloon is inserted into the collapsed vertebral body and inflated,
pushing the bones back to your natural height. Once the balloon is
deflated and removed, bone cement is then injected into the cavity
created by the balloon to stabilize the bone.
Kyphoplasty is usually performed under sedation or general anesthesia,
often with an overnight hospital stay. Your interventional radiologist
may recommend kyphoplasty rather than vertebroplasty for treatment of
your recent compression fracture, as kyphoplasty has been shown to
restore some height to the vertebra involved and may allow the bone
cement to be delivered with greater precision.
Benefits of the Procedures
Because vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are a minimally invasive
No surgical incision is needed, just a small nick in the skin
No stitches are required
In the case of vertebroplasty, no hospitalization or general
anesthesia is required
Most patients report that their pain is gone or significantly better
within 48 hours and that they return to normal activity shortly after
the procedure. Studies have shown that from 75 to 90 percent of people
treated with vertebroplasty will have complete or significant reduction
of their pain.
Causes of Spine Fractures
Spinal fractures, also called compression fractures, are caused by a
weakening of the bone in the spine. A fracture occurs when the weakened
vertebrae of the spine collapse, usually in the middle (thoracic) or
lower (lumbar) spine.
In older adults, osteoporosis—a progressive weakening of the bone over
time—is the primary cause of spinal fractures. Fractures typically occur
in women over the age of 60 who are affected by osteoporosis. Spinal
fractures can also occur among younger people whose bones have become
fragile due to the long-term use of steroids or other drugs to treat
diseases such as lupus, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Osteoporosis is called a "silent disease," because bone loss occurs
without symptoms. People may not know they have osteoporosis until their
bones become so weak that a simple strain, twist of the body, bump or
fall causes a bone fracture. The most common site of fracture is in the
vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column.
Initially, the fracture may feel like severe back pain. However, when
more than one vertebra collapses, a loss of height or spinal
deformities, such as kyphosis or "widow's hump," may result. For some
individuals, the fracture stabilizes itself and the pain goes away. But
for many, the pain persists because the crushed bone continues to move
and break. For many people with osteoporosis, a spinal fracture means
severely limited activity, constant pain and a serious reduction in the
quality of their lives.
The symptoms of osteoporosis may resemble other bone disorders or
medical problems, so always consult your physician for a diagnosis. In
addition to a complete medical history and physical examination,
diagnostic procedures for osteoporosis may include a family medical
history, X-rays, a bone density test and blood tests.
Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include:
A family history of osteoporosis
Postmenopausal or an abnormal absence of menstrual periods
Anorexia or bulimia
A diet low in calcium
Long-term use of corticosteroids or anticonvulsants
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.