Kyphoplasty: Treatment for Spinal Compression Fractures

By Thomas E. Menke, M.D.

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects approximately 24 million Americans. It results in bone weakening due to calcium loss. One of the most common complications of this disease is spinal compression fractures. These fractures can occur as a result of a low-energy fall or even with no known injury at all. It is estimated that 700,000 osteoporotic compression fractures occur each year in the United States.

Traditional treatment for compression fractures consist of bed rest, bracing and pain medicine. With this treatment, more than one-third of fractures become chronically painful. Additionally, the fracture deformity can lead to a stooped posture that can cause further pain and possibly additional fractures.

Kyphoplasty is a new procedure treating osteoporotic spine fractures. It involves the placement of balloon catheters into the fractured vertebra through small incisions, which, when inflated, restore the fractured vertebra back towards its original height. Complete restoration of height is not always possible. After the balloon is removed, the resultant void is filled with bone cement that reinforces the fractured bone. Pain relief is usually immediate and significant, though not always complete.

Kyphoplasty is considered a safe procedure, but it is not without risk. As with any invasive procedure, there is a low risk of infection and nerve or blood-vessel injury. The primary risk specific to kyphoplasty is leakage of cement outside the fractured vertebra. The risk is minimized because the technique creates a void in the vertebra, which is then filled with thick, putty-like cement under low pressure.

Not every osteoporotic fracture requires this treatment. Kyphoplasty is indicated for fractures that cause pain that is not controlled by traditional means after two to three weeks, fractures that cause pain so severe that the patient is bedridden for several days and fractures that show progression of deformity during traditional treatment. As with any medical procedure, the decision to proceed needs to be made on an individual basis after a discussion of the potential risks and benefits between the patient and treating physician.

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Last Updated: 10/4/03