If you suffer a spinal fracture, vertebroplasty can relieve your pain and speed your return to normal. This minimally invasive procedure stabilizes spinal fractures with the use of bone cement.
Once the cement hardens – you will have to remain immobile during that period – the spine is in a much more stable position. Speak with a skilled surgeon to discuss if your condition would benefit from vertebroplasty.
Vertebral fractures are compression fractures, and the affected vertebrae fall into the spine. Normal vertebrae are rectangular, but the collapsed bones become flat and distorted. These compression fractures result in great pain and/or subsequent lack of mobility. Several compression fractures end up causing height loss, or the rounded back referred to as “dowager’s hump.”
While an injury may cause a vertebral fracture, it is not the primary reason for these compression fractures. That dubious distinction belongs to osteoporosis, a bone disease causing brittle, weak bones.
While primarily a result of aging, long-term steroid therapy in some patients triggers osteoporosis, as does certain metabolic diseases. Even minor movements can result in compression fractures in those with serious osteoporosis. Cancer is another, relatively common cause of vertebral fracture.
Vertebroplasty is considered for patients only when more conservative treatments have failed. Those treatments include pain and bone-strengthening medication, rest, physical therapy and back braces. Suitable vertebroplasty candidates experience chronic pain and can no longer perform or have great difficulty going about daily tasks.
Doctors must ensure that a compression fracture is indeed the cause of the patient’s suffering. That means extensive testing to rule out other reasons for pain and lack of mobility, such as herniated discs or compression of the nerve roots or spinal cord. Patients undergo various tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:
- Bone scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Computed tomography
Since osteoporosis most often afflicts the elderly, the average vertebroplasty candidate is a senior citizen.
In vertebroplasty, treatment consists of a needle inserted into the affected bone or bones as a conduit for the cement. The patient receives either local sedation or general anesthesia, based on the amount of pain. The doctor guides a needle into the vertebral fracture via an X-ray monitoring guide and begins injecting the cement into it. This is a slow process. For some fractures, an additional injection is needed.
As a minimally invasive procedure, vertebroplasty leaves patients with smaller incisions and less blood loss than conventional surgery. Recovery time is faster with minimally invasive surgeries.
After the vertebroplasty, patients must remain on their back for at least an hour while the cement hardens. The pain may temporarily increase during that time period. Over-the-counter pain medications generally relieve this discomfort.
Most patients leave the surgical facility or hospital a few hours after the vertebroplasty. Some patients may still require a back brace, at least for a few weeks. They should expect to return for a check-up visit within two weeks of the procedure.
Vertebroplasty is a relatively safe procedure, but all surgeries carry risks. Rare complications of vertebroplasty include:
- Blood loss
- Rib fracture
Occasionally, the cement exits the bone before hardening, requiring surgical intervention.
Contact a Spine Surgeon
If you suffer a spinal fracture and want to know more about vertebroplasty, contact an experienced surgeon today to make an appointment.