Resolving Compression Fractures with Kyphoplasty
The spine plays a major role in our everyday lives. It protects one of the main components of our nervous system—the spinal cord. In addition, it plays a key role in supporting the body, maintaining posture, and enabling movement.
Just like the rest of the body, the spine isn’t immune to injuries. These injuries, in fact, can lead to painful, debilitating conditions. One common spinal injury is a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). This occurs when a bone in the spine collapses. Sometimes known as a spinal compression fracture, this condition may cause severe back pain, loss of height, and issues with your overall health.
Luckily, treatments can stabilize the area and reduce or eliminate symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at vertebral compression fractures and effective methods for treating them.
What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?
The vertebrae—the bones of the spine—help to absorb pressure during everyday movement. Unfortunately, sometimes this pressure can be too much. Sudden jolts, like a bad fall or car accident, can cause a vertebra to fracture. When the spine cannot support this excessive force, the front part of the vertebra may collapse. This results in a wedge-shaped vertebral body.
While anyone can sustain a compression fracture, those with osteoporosis have a higher risk. The bones are a living, regenerating tissue. Those with osteoporosis don’t have the ability to effectively replace old bone with new. As a result, the bones become less dense and weaker. People suffering from severe osteoporosis may experience a compression fracture even when lifting a light object or sneezing vigorously. Of course, these are extreme cases. It usually takes much more force or trauma to cause these fractures.
Those with bone cancer and other spinal tumors may also have compromised vertebrae, increasing the chance of a compression fracture.
VCFs can occur in different areas of the spine. The most common is a thoracic compression fracture, usually occurring at the lower part of the upper back. This injury may also include areas of the lower back, known as a lumbar compression fracture.
Symptoms of Vertebral Compression Fractures (VCFs)
Do you think your back pain may be caused by a compression fracture? If you recently suffered a bad fall, for example, you may notice the following VCF symptoms:
- Sudden onset of back pain
- Increased pain while walking or standing
- Less pain while lying on the back
- Difficulty bending or twisting
- Tenderness at certain parts of the spine
- Pain while sneezing, laughing, coughing, or taking a deep breath
If VCFs don’t heal properly or become worse, you may experience deformities in the spine. The front side of the spine may gradually lose height while the rear end remains the same. This causes a forward curve of the spine known as kyphosis. When it occurs in the upper back, it can eventually lead to a pronounced curve known as Dowager’s hump.
In addition, compression fractures can narrow the spinal canal, leading to nerve damage. This can cause pain, numbness, and tingling sensations in the extremities. Depending on which nerves are impacted, you may experience problems with bladder and bowel control.
If you suffer from severe symptoms from your VCF, an orthopedic doctor may help you return to your normal life. While surgery isn’t always required, it may be necessary for extreme cases. Let’s take a look at some treatments for a VCF.
Vertebral Compression Fracture Treatment
In many cases, doctors initially explore non-surgical treatments. A short period of bed rest is often recommended to reduce stress to the area, allowing the bones to heal. Too much bed rest, however, can weaken nearby muscles and lower bone mineral density. Usually, after the bed rest period, you will have to limit your activities until the bone heals.
A back brace can help to maintain spinal stability. In fact, spinal bracing can reduce pain, hasten healing, and prevent spinal deformities.
Those who experience significant pain can manage it with medications. It is important to take prescriptions exactly as directed since some medications are habit-forming. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about side effects or the dangers of misusing pain medications.
Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles around your spine to make the area more stable. In addition, seeing a physical therapist can reduce the need for pain medications by using alternative treatments and technologies.
If your VCF is related to osteoporosis, your doctor may order calcium and vitamin D supplements or bone-strengthening medications.
Surgical Treatments: Vertebroplasty vs Kyphoplasty
If your compression fractures require surgery, there are two main procedures doctors prefer—vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.
What is the difference between vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty? Let’s explore both procedures.
This minimally invasive procedure stabilizes the VCF and stops any painful movements. Unlike open back surgery, this procedure uses a small puncture in the skin. A typical vertebroplasty takes about an hour.
After local anesthesia and sedation, the surgeon inserts a needle into the back. A tiny camera on the needle helps the surgeon find the compression fracture without damaging other areas of the body. Once the fracture is found, a special bone cement, known as PMMA, is injected into the fractured vertebra. The cement fills the cracks and acts as an internal cast. The cement usually dries in about ten minutes.
Most patients undergoing vertebroplasty can go home the same day if they have a friend or family member to assist them.
This minimally invasive procedure is similar to vertebroplasty. The difference, however, involves using a special balloon to restore some or all of the spine’s lost height.
A patient is prepped for kyphoplasty surgery with either local or general anesthesia. Then a small incision is made, in which the doctor inserts a hollow needle equipped with a small camera. Using images from the camera, the doctor finds the fracture.
Once located, the doctor inserts a special balloon through the tube. After it reaches the collapsed vertebrae, the doctor slowly inflates it. This returns fractured bone pieces to a normal position. The balloon is then removed so that the surgeon can fill the area with the special cement.
Balloon kyphoplasty usually takes an hour for each affected vertebrae. Most patients can go home the day after surgery.
Kyphoplasty recovery is relatively quick. You may feel pain relief in a day or two. There may, however, be some soreness at the incision site. Patients are advised to rest for the first 24 hours after surgery and to get plenty of sleep. After that, they can resume their daily activities—aside from heavy lifting and exertion.
Your surgeon will discuss pain medications, caring for the wound, and follow-up care.
Advantages of a Kyphoplasty
Since the affected area is opened up with the help of a special balloon, surgeons only need to use low pressure to apply the PMMA cement. This can prevent cement leakage and make height restoration more predictable. For vertebroplasties, surgeons use high pressure and a more liquidy form of PMMA which, in some cases, can enter the vascular system causing cardiac/pulmonary compromise.
Ready to Get Help for your Spinal Compression Fracture?
If you’re sick of dealing with the pain and discomfort of your VCF, the Advanced Spine Center can help. Our doctors have over 6 decades of combined experience in helping individuals recover from spinal issues. We use the latest technology to offer minimally invasive procedures that allow you to return to your normal activities as soon as possible.
A little worried about surgery? Using a collaborative approach, we empower you with the best options for making an informed decision based on your treatment goals. We take the time to discuss surgical and nonsurgical treatments that relieve pain and restore function to the affected area of your spine. Schedule a consultation with us today and ensure a better tomorrow!