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Treatment for Spinal Compression Fractures

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Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty

These procedures for spinal compression fractures involve small, minimally invasive incisions, so they require very little healing time. They also use acrylic bone cement that hardens quickly, stabilizing the spinal bone fragments and therefore stabilizing the spine immediately. Most patients go home the same day or after one night's hospital stay.

Vertebroplasty. This procedure is effective for relieving pain from spinal compression fractures and helping to stabilize the fracture. During this procedure:

  • A needle is inserted into the damaged vertebrae.
  • X-rays help ensure that it's done with accuracy.
  • The doctor injects a bone cement mixture into the fractured vertebrae.
  • The cement mixture hardens in about 10 minutes.
  • The patient typically goes home the same day or after a one-night hospital stay.

Kyphoplasty: This procedure helps correct the bone deformity and relieves the pain associated with spinal compression fractures. During the procedure:

  • A tube is inserted through a half inch cut in the back  into the damaged vertebrae. X-rays help ensure the accuracy of the procedure.
  • A thin catheter tube -- with a balloon at the tip -- is guided into the vertebra.
  • The balloon is inflated to create a cavity in which liquid bone cement is injected.
  • The balloon is then deflated and removed, and bone cement is injected into the cavity.
  • The cement mixture hardens in about 10 minutes.

"These procedures are amazing, when you look at how well patients do," says Rex Marco, MD, chief of spine surgery and musculoskeletal oncology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. "They're often in terrible, terrible pain, and it's not going away. But with two small incisions we can take care of something that needed a huge operation in the past but without really good results."

"We do everything we can to make the operation go as smoothly as possible," says Marco. "Antibiotics decrease the chance of infection. And a special x-ray machine helps us get the needle into the bone and assure that cement goes into the bone and stays in the bone."

Spinal Fusion Surgery

Spinal fusion surgery is sometimes used for spinal compression fractures to eliminate motion between two vertebrae and relieve pain. The procedure connects two or more vertebrae together, holds them in the correct position, and keeps them from moving until they have a chance to grow together, or fuse.

Metal screws are placed through a small tube of bone and into the vertebrae. The screws are attached to metal plates or metal rods that are bolted together in the back of the spine. The hardware holds the vertebrae in place. This stops movement, allowing the vertebrae to fuse. Bone is grafted into the spaces between vertebrae.

"Spinal fusion is often the last resort," Wetzel tells WebMD. "If the bone is more than 50% compressed in height, if patients are in a great deal of pain, and if they have had complications from another spinal surgery, we suggest spinal fusion surgery."

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