What is Vertebroplasty?

Garry Crystal

Vertebroplasty is a nonsurgical procedure used to strengthen a broken spinal bone. Osteoporosis or diseases such as cancer can weaken the spinal bone or vertebra. Vertebroplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that helps 85 to 90% of sufferers experience immediate relief from back pain.

A medical professional examines an X-ray to confirm a spinal compression fracture before vertebroplasty is performed.
A medical professional examines an X-ray to confirm a spinal compression fracture before vertebroplasty is performed.

Back pain may be caused by joint disease, tumors, infections or muscle spasms. Fractures in the spinal column are most commonly caused by osteoporosis. Two hundred thousand people suffer from fractures due to osteoporosis each year, and previous treatments involved medication and invasive back surgery. Vertebroplasty is intended as a treatment for the fractures of the spinal column, without the need for invasive surgery.

Before vertebroplasty, the patient undergoes a medical evaluation including blood tests, diagnostic imaging and a full physical exam. Spine x-rays are used to confirm compression fractures. The procedure is usually performed in the morning. The patient is sedated and given a general anesthetic to numb the skin.

A small incision is made, and a hollow needle is passed through the incision and through the spinal muscles. The tip of the needle is positioned within the fractured vertebra. Once the needle is shown to be in the precise position, orthopedic cement is injected. This is medical cement that hardens very quickly, in approximately 10 to 20 minutes. The crushed bone fragments are fused together and no longer wear against the nerve endings when the patient moves.

Vertebroplasty usually lasts around two hours, and the patient is allowed to go home straight after, under supervision. For two or three days after the vertebroplasty, pain may occur at the site of injection. Pain can be relieved with an icepack, but remember to keep the incision area clear by using a cloth before applying the icepack.

Seventy-five percent of people who have lost mobility due to back pain regain mobility after vertebroplasty. After only a few weeks, many sufferers are able to lower any pain medication they had been using before the procedure. Vertebroplasty is a safe procedure, but occasionally a small amount of cement may leak out of the vertebral body. This should not cause a serious problem unless the leakage moves to a dangerous location, such as the spinal canal. Other rare complications include infection, bleeding and increased back pain. A doctor should be consulted immediately if any of these occur.

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