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Compression fractures are one of the most common and painful spinal disorders.
Traditional treatments for compression fractures include pain medications, bed rest, and spinal bracing. For most people, these treatment options can successfully treat the injury and surgery is rarely necessary. However, many patients are left at high risk for additional fractures. The surgeons at the San Diego Center for Spinal Disorders (SDCSD) offer another treatment option for compression fractures called kyphoplasty, which not only repairs the injury but also restores alignment and helps prevent future problems.
What is kyphoplasty?
Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that uses orthopedic cement or new bone substitute materials to "rebuild" the vertebral space lost as a result of the compression fracture and, in most cases, return it to its original height. The procedure also relieves pain and stabilizes the vertebrae to prevent future injury.
How does kyphoplasty work?
Kyphoplasty is performed under local or general anesthesia. The physician makes a small incision in the skin of the back and, using image guidance x-ray technology, threads a narrow tube through the skin to the fractured vertebrae. A special balloon, called a bone tamp, is then inserted through the tube into the vertebral space and gently inflated, restoring the space to the desired height. Once the appropriate height has been restored, the balloon is removed and the space is filled with orthopedic cement called PMMA (Polymethylmethacrylate). This cement hardens and repairs the fracture. It provides strength and stability to the vertebrae, restores height, and usually relieves the patient's pain. Recently, in some cases a bone substitute has been used for this purpose but long term results are not known. On average, a kyphoplasty procedure takes about 30 to 45 minutes per fracture treated.
What are the benefits of kyphoplasty?
In addition to repairing the compression fracture, restoring height to the spinal column, and relieving pain, kyphoplasty has the following additional benefits:
- It is a minimally invasive procedure, which means small incisions and short surgical recovery time.
- Patients only need to stay in the hospital for one day (sometimes less).
- Most patients experience immediate and near-complete pain relief and are quickly able to return to their normal daily activities.
- No bracing is required.
Another important benefit of this procedure is that it can prevent future fractures by stabilizing the vertebrae, thereby preventing the onset or worsening of severe spinal deformity. While it works best for recent fractures, some patients with older injuries may also benefit.
What are the risks of kyphoplasty?
As with any surgical procedure, kyphoplasty does have potential risks and complications.
The most common complication is cement leaking out of the vertebra before it hardens. Other risks include cement leaking into the spinal canal, causing pain and neurological problems. In rare cases, pulmonary embolism of the lungs and even death have been associated with this procedure. It is important that the procedure is done by a spine surgeon familiar with treating this rare complication, if it occurs. Your physician at SDCSD will help you assess the risks and benefits to kyphoplasty.
Is kyphoplasty for me?
We perform kyphoplasty at our practice. Most of our patients report a significant reduction in pain within 48 hours of the procedure. They are able to quickly return to their normal activities, often the same day of the procedure. However, this procedure is not appropriate for everyone. If you have a compression fracture, you will meet with one of our spine specialists to see what treatment options are best suited for your condition.