A simple interventional radiology procedure called vertebroplasty is
freeing people from the debilitating pain of spinal fractures caused by
osteoporosis, restoring the quality of life they knew before the disease
weakened their bones.
Often times, once a compression fracture of the spine occurs, a person’s
overall health takes a downward spiral. These patients often find relief
only by lying still in bed which can lead to increasing weakness, loss
of independence and other medical problems. Main Line Health
interventional radiologists can now offer people suffering from this
condition an outpatient, non-surgical treatment that relieves their pain
What Causes Spinal Fractures?
Spinal fractures occur when a weakened vertebra (a bone in the spinal
column) collapses. A simple strain, twisting or bending motion, or fall
can cause a fracture. Unlike fractures in other bones which can be “set”
with a cast, no such option exists for spinal fractures. Without
treatment, it is likely that the fractured vertebra will continue to
collapse, leading to increasing spinal deformity—the typical “widow’s
Approximately 700,000 vertebral or spinal fractures occur each year,
usually in people over the age of 60 suffering from osteoporosis.
Younger people can also be affected—those whose bones have become
fragile due to the long-term use of steroids or other drugs for diseases
such as lupus, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
For people with spinal fractures, few treatments until now have been
effective. Bed rest and pain medications have been prescribed, but
narcotics can cause unwanted side effects. Surgery has been the
treatment of last resort because a weakened bone does not support the
necessary metal hardware used to stabilize a spine fracture surgically.
Today, vertebroplasty can offer people a safe remedy that is extremely
effective in reducing or eliminating the pain caused by spinal
fractures. Most people can resume their normal daily activities within
Guided by fluoroscopy (live, continuous X-ray images), the
interventional radiologist inserts two needles into the fractured
vertebra through which bone cement is injected.
The cement begins to harden within 15 minutes, preventing further
vertebral collapse. Pain normally diminishes within hours, sometimes
immediately. The outpatient procedure is performed with a local
anesthetic, sometimes with mild sedation. It takes about an hour, and
the patient can go home in three to four hours. Studies have shown that
from 85 to 90 percent of people treated with vertebroplasty will have
complete or significant reduction in their pain, usually within 48
If regaining height of the fractured vertebra is a concern, a variation
of vertebroplasty called kyphoplasty is an option, In this procedure, a
balloon is inserted into the collapsed vertebral body and inflated,
pushing the bones back toward their normal 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
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.