Definition of vertebroplasty
Vertebroplasty is an outpatient procedure for stabilizing compression fractures in the spine. Bone cement is injected into back bones (vertebrae) that have cracked or broken, often because of osteoporosis. The cement hardens, stabilizing the fractures and supporting your spine. Vertebroplasty can greatly reduce pain and allow you to return to normal activity.
Vertebroplasty is used to treat compression fractures in the spine. A compression fracture occurs when pressure on a vertebra causes it to break or crack. Compression fractures are often extremely painful, and can cause abnormal spine curvature that leads to other serious health problems.
A number of studies have shown the benefits of vertebroplasty for people with severe disabling pain caused by a compression fracture. Vertebroplasty can relieve pain, increase mobility and reduce the use of pain medication.
Specialists may recommend vertebroplasty if:
- Your pain is severe and the result of a compression fracture
- Other, more conservative treatments haven’t relieved your pain
- Your compression fracture is less than six months old, and imaging tests (X-rays, MRI and bone scan) can pinpoint the location and age of the compression fracture
- Your bones are not so weakened (porous) that your ribs might break as a result of lying facedown during the procedure
Most people can be treated as outpatients and return home the same day. During vertebroplasty you are awake but sedated, and lie on your stomach. Your back is numbed by a local anesthetic and a small incision is made. Guided by X-ray cameras, your doctor injects bone cement into the damaged vertebra with a needle. Vertebroplasty usually takes one hour for each vertebra that is treated. You will need to lie flat on your back for two hours afterward while the cement hardens.
Vertebroplasty has several benefits:
- Return to normal activity. Many people with compression fractures are unable to do everyday tasks because of the pain. Vertebroplasty stabilizes the fracture, allowing most people to resume previous levels of activity within a few days.
- Reduced pain medication. Vertebroplasty reduces and sometimes eliminates the need for pain medication.
- Prevention of further fractures. The cement fills the spaces in bone weakened by osteoporosis. The treated bone is less likely to crack or fracture again.
As with any surgery, vertebroplasty has risks. These may include cement leakage, infection and spinal cord injury.
Kyphoplasty is similar to vertebroplasty, but uses special balloons to create spaces in the spine that are then filled with the bone cement. Kyphoplasty can correct spinal deformity and restore lost height. The procedure is most successful when used on compression fractures that occurred within the previous three months.