Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Upper Spine FAQ

Question:

I am looking into having a vertebroplasty for a fractured spinal bone. Although I'm only 66-years-young, I do have significant osteoporosis. I don't want to end up a stooped over old lady and I've been told this little procedure helps plump up the bone again. Is there any reason NOT to have this done?

Answer:

Patients like yourself who have osteoporosis (brittle bones) are prone to compression fractures in the vertebrae (spinal bones). The front of a vertebra cracks under pressure, causing it to collapse in height. More than 700,000 such fractures occur every year in the United States. These fractures can be asymptomatic (no symptoms). But more often, they cause debilitating pain, poor back posture, and difficulty completing routine activities. The surgical procedure you are considering (called vertebroplasty) is used to help with this problem . The surgeon uses a special type of X-ray called fluoroscopy to insert a long, thin needle through the skin and soft tissues directly into the fractured vertebra. A special bone cement, called polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), is then injected through the needle into the fractured vertebra. A chemical reaction in the cement causes it to harden in about 15 minutes. This fixes the bone so it can heal. Vertebroplasty restores the strength of the fractured bone, thereby reducing pain quickly. More than 80 percent of patients get immediate relief of pain with this procedure. It is a simple procedure that can be done under a local anesthesia. But there can be problems such as damaging nerves nearby, infection, and blood clot formation. One other complication has recently been brought to light and that is vertebral fracture after vertebroplasty. Studies show there is a range of frequency for this problem that extends from 12 to 52 per cent. Fifty-two per cent is significantly high. Studies are underway to investigate what is causing this and to look for risk factors we can do something about. You will want to sit down with your surgeon and weigh all the pros and cons of this procedure for yourself. Besides increasing the height of your vertebra and helping restore normal alignment and posture, this procedure has the capability of improving lung function and digestion. It can also restore sleep for some patients and even improve depression. These are all important benefits of this procedure. Yi-An, MD, et al. Subsequent Vertebral Fracture After Vertebroplasty. In Spine. February 1, 2012. Vol. 37. No. 3. Pp. 179-183.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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