In the past, people who were desperate for relief from the pain of spinal compression fractures could only be offered pain medication and bed rest. Now, an hour-long outpatient procedure called balloon kyphoplasty gives them hope for a better quality of life.
“Spinal compression fractures are quite a common problem, especially in the aging population,” says Jon Horn, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital. “These fractures produce excruciating pain.”
Spinal compression fractures occur when small, hairline breaks in the bone cause vertebrae to collapse. They are typically caused by osteoporosis, but can also result from cancer that spreads to the spine. Symptoms include:
- Sudden or gradual severe back pain
- Loss of height
- Pain when twisting, bending, lifting, walking or standing, with some relief when lying down
- A “hunchback” or curvature of the spine
“Before we started doing vertebral augmentation, all we could offer patients who had suffered a compression fracture were bed rest and pain relievers,” says Dr. Horn. “Now that we have kyphoplasty, we can help decrease those problems that occur in patients who are completely bedridden.”
The purpose of balloon kyphoplasty is twofold: to eliminate pain and prevent height loss of the vertebral body. The procedure also prevents future fractures.
“The vertebral body that is treated will never fracture again,” says Dr. Horn.
Not only are spinal compression fractures painful, they can cause serious complications. Fractures can lead to a loss of height, which shortens the chest cavity and makes eating and breathing difficult.
“Kyphoplasty is an outpatient procedure that is done under conscious sedation, so no general anesthesia is needed,” says Dr. Horn. “Using a minimally invasive technique, needles are placed carefully using fluoroscopic control into the vertebral body. A balloon is then used to create a cavity to allow the safe delivery of cement, which goes in like thick toothpaste.”
Most procedures take less than an hour and within 30 minutes, the cement solidifies. Patients are usually sent home after a two-hour recovery period.
Dr. Horn says most people experience immediate pain reduction.
“Kyphoplasty is one of my favorite procedures to perform because of the satisfaction [of seeing] a patient [who is] completely bedridden before the procedure [be] able to walk after the procedure.”
For more information on balloon kyphoplasty, visit Piedmont Interventional Radiology.