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
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.