Repositioning and cemeting fractured vertebrae to restore them

Fractured vertebrae are a common condition, especially in older patients, and they can be painful and debilitating.  Specialists have long sought a less-invasive way to address fractures in vertebrae than the conventional open surgery required for spinal fusion or fixation - and a more effective approach than the traditional bed rest, pain medications,and bracing used for most patients with vertebral fractures. 

Patients who have osteoporosis are at greatest risk for these fractures.  Broken vertebrae are compromised in such a way that they can shift or compact, in turn squeezing or damaging the spine or vital nerves emanating from the spine.  Patients may become bedridden from these fractures, as a result of severe pain - due to nerve impingement or bone rubbing on bone - that is felt especially during movement.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer compression fractures each year.

Kyphoplasty restores spacing in the vertebra to relieve pressure on spinal nerves and create a long-term repair –– all without surgery.

In the last several years, interventional radiologists have made available a new procedure to correct this condition, and it is benefiting many patients.  Earlier referred to as vertebroplasty, and now refined into a procedure called kyphoplasty, this treatment can relieve pain and return mobility without the need for a hospital stay or long postsurgical recovery.

Shifting and Refortifying the Vertebra
Under imaging guidance, interventionalists can inject orthopedic cement into a fractured vertebra, to correct, reinforce, and stabilize this bone.  The team will typically use x-rays and MR imaging scans to confirm and study the fracture first.

  Interventionalists make a small incision in the skin near the fractured vertebra and insert a small tube, through which they advance a tiny balloon (tamp) at the end of a catheter, which they then inflate to reposition vertebra.  This permits them to at least partially restore the height of the vertebra and decrease the deformity in it.  The team then passes a needle-like instrument into the space in the vertebral bone, through which it injects an extremely strong, specially formulated bone cement, which is easily visible on x-ray image.

During the procedure, the specialists introduce the cement slowly, as they monitor the process under a type of operating room x-ray monitoring capability called fluoroscopy.  Seeing the progress of the cement as it fills the fracture decreases the chance that the cement will impinge upon the spinal canal, the nerve roots, or the vertebral disk.  The medical cement solidifies to a state even harder than bone.

With the more recent addition of the balloon-tamp step, the procedure corrects more of the collapse in the vertebra prior to cementing and can therefore help to remove curvature of the spine that results.  In addition, the cement –– injected gradually under low pressure in putty form –– finds an easier path into the space where it is needed after the balloon tamp opens this space.  (This may also reduce the risk of the cement leaking out of the space.)

Patients rest in the recovery area and can return home that same day or after a brief overnight in the hospital.

Often this is in the first 24 hours after the procedure.  It is not unusual that patients who undergo the procedure are already back on their feet and returning to normal daily activities within a day.

Prompt Pain Relief, Repeatable Procedure
Interventionalists can perform the procedure for patients with vertebral fractures due to a number of conditions in addition to osteoporotic compression fracture, including cancer or trauma.  And, they can repeat the procedure for patients who experience additional fractures.  (Fracture of adjacent vertebrae is a potential complication of kyphoplasty.)  Patients are better candidates for kyphoplasty if their fracture has occurred within a few weeks or months prior to evaluation.

The procedure is dramatically quicker and easier to undergo than conventional, open spinal surgery, and much faster and more dependable in its results than conventional bed rest treatment.