Vertebroplasty is an outpatient procedure that is done to treat compression spine fractures. In these types of fractures, the bone collapses and breaks. The procedure injects cement into the bone. This holds the bone in place and keeps it from collapsing or breaking any more. It is also called percutaneous vertebroplasty.
What is a compression spine fracture?
More than 40 million people in the United States are at higher risk for spine fractures (broken bones in the backbone). They have osteoporosis (a decrease in the amount of bone mass) or other thinning of the bones. Thinning of the bones can occur at any age. It is most common in older adults. If bone in the spine is weakened, it can collapse. This is called a compression fracture. This usually causes severe back pain. When several of the bones collapse, loss of height or stooped posture (sometimes called “widow’s hump”) may occur. Usually, the fracture gets better by itself, and the pain finally goes away. In some patients, the collapsed bone continues to move and break. This causes ongoing pain.
How are spinal fractures treated?
Most fractures of the spine are treated with a back brace to make sure you don’t move the area, causing further damage. You may wear the back brace for up to 12 weeks. Pain medicines and physical therapy may also be used. For some patients, doctors may prescribe a medicine called calcitonin. It appears to help make the bone stronger. Sometimes, patients may need surgery to secure the spine using a bone graft or an internal metal device. Before that, though, vertebroplasty may help hold the fractured bone in place and relieve pain.
Path to improved health
How is vertebroplasty done?
Your doctor will likely start by giving you medicine to make you feel calm. Some patients who are in severe pain may need extra medicine to make them sleepy. Then your doctor will use numbing medicine (local anesthetic) at the site where the needle will go in. Once the area is numb, he or she will insert a small needle into the crushed bone. They guide the needle into position using special X-ray equipment. So open surgery isn’t necessary.
Once the needle is in position, a bone cement is injected into the bone to secure it. The cement hardens, stabilizing the bone. Several crushed bones can be treated at the same time. The procedure generally takes about one hour for each bone that is treated. Usually, patients can leave the hospital a few hours after the procedure is done.
What is the recovery like?
Most people are able to walk after the procedure. You may need to stay in bed for 24 hours afterward. Then you can slowly resume normal activity. Many patients feel pain relief soon after vertebroplasty. Most report that their pain is gone or is much better within 48 hours.
Things to consider
Is the procedure safe?
Vertebroplasty is safe. The bone cement used to secure the broken bone is safe. Patients with tumors on the spine may be at slightly higher risk of complications. Complications could include:
- allergic reaction to the medicines
- nerve injuries
- leakage of the bone cement into surrounding areas.
These complications are rare. You should always discuss the risks of any procedure with your doctor.
How do I know if vertebroplasty is right for me?
If you have a broken bone in your back and the pain is not better after 1 to 2 weeks of bed rest and pain control medicine, talk to your doctor about whether vertebroplasty is right for you. Newer fractures tend to respond better than older fractures. But some older fractures can be treated successfully. The procedure does not help with chronic back pain or herniated discs.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is vertebroplasty a good choice for me?
- How long will the procedure take?
- Will I receive local or general anesthesia?
- How long will my recovery time be?
- Will this take care of my broken bone, or will I need further treatment?
Percutaneous Vertebroplasty: New Treatment for Vertebral Compression Fractures by TA Predey, MD; LE Sewall, MD; SJ Smith, MD (American Family Physician 08/15/02).
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.