Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty are revolutionary new treatments
developed by interventional radiologists to stabilize broken bones
in the spine caused by osteoporosis. VIA Interventional Radiologists
were the first in Greater Cincinnati to perform vertebroplasty and
have performed more successful vertebroplasties than any group in
the Tristate area.
In the vertebroplasty procedure, a needle about the size of a cocktail
straw is inserted through the skin and into the crushed vertebrae.
A surgical bone cement is injected into the bone. The cement hardens,
stabilizes the bone and prevents further collapse. This stops the
pain caused by bone rubbing against bone.
Surgery is not required because the doctor is able to guide the needle to the
right spot using special X-ray equipment. Vertebroplasty takes from one to two
hours to perform depending on how many bones are treated. The procedure may be
performed with a local anesthetic that numbs the area to be treated, or the patient
may be given general anesthesia.
Kyphoplasty is very similar to vertebroplasty except that one or
two balloons are inflated in the vertebral body to create a cavity
in the body prior to cement injection. This procedure is utilized to treat vertebral compression fractures
that may be difficult to manage with vertebroplasty alone. Your VIA interventional
radiologist will assist you in selecting the therapy that is best for your type
Frequently Asked Questions About Vertebroplasty
Is the procedure safe?
Vertebroplasty is very safe. Although it is a relatively new treatment
in the U.S., vertebroplasty has been performed for more than a decade
at several centers in France with excellent results. The injection
technique also has been successfully used for a number of years in
the U.S. to treat other conditions in the spine. For example, it
is used to treat cancer and blood vessel abnormalities. The bone
cement used to stabilize the fractured vertebrae has been shown to
be safe through many years of use in joint replacement surgeries
and other orthopaedic procedures.
Who is a candidate for vertebroplasty?
People who have suffered recent
compressing fractures that are causing them moderate to severe back
pain are the best candidates for vertebroplasty. In some cases, older
fractures may be treated, but the procedure is most successful if
it is performed soon after the fracture occurs. The procedure is
not used to treat chronic back pain or herniated disks.
How successful is vertebroplasty?
Studies have shown that from 75
percent to 90 percent of people treated with vertebroplasty will
have complete or significant reduction of their pain.
What are the risks or complications?
Vertebroplasty is a very safe
procedure with few risks or complications. In many studies, no complications
were reported. As with any medical procedure, the possibility of
complications will depend on the individual patient. For example,
patients with tumors in the spine or with other serious medical conditions
may be at higher risk for complications from vertebroplasty. You
should always ask your doctor to discuss risks and complications
with you before you undergo any procedure.
Will vertebroplasty treat or prevent loss of
height or "widow’s
After a vertebra has fractured, there is typically a loss of only
20 percent to 30 percent of the height of the bone. But over several
weeks, fractures may reoccur and the vertebra flattens out, until
eventually there’s a 70 percent to 90 percent loss of height
in the bone. Gradually, the back hunches over and the person loses
height, especially if several vertebrae are involved. Vertebroplasty
cannot reverse this loss of height or kyphosis (often called "widow’s
hump) in individuals who already have these conditions.
Some studies suggest that early treatment of spinal fractures with
vertebroplasty can strengthen the spine and improve the posture,
which may help prevent further fractures that lead to height loss
or kyphosis. Currently, however, there is no evidence to prove that
the procedure will prevent these problems. However, new research
on the horizon is looking at ways to solve these problems.
How should I prepare for the procedure?
First, you'll be clinically evaluated. The evaluation generally
includes diagnostic imaging, blood tests and a physical exam. Diagnostic
imaging such as spine x-rays, a radioisotope bone scan or magnetic
resonance (MR) imaging will be done to confirm the presence of
a compression fracture that is amenable to vertebroplasty. If an
MR cannot be performed, because of a pacemaker or other medical
factor, a CT scan can be substituted. In preparation for the clinical
evaluation and physical exam, you should obtain and bring with
you any previous diagnostic images, especially x-rays or MR films.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to x-ray contrast
material, which contains iodine.
Most medical facilities provide patients with pre-procedure instructions.
Instructions will typically tell you not to eat for at least six
hours before the procedure. If you are diabetic, you should contact
your doctor for instructions on regulating your blood sugar and medications.
On the day of the procedure, if your doctor instructs you to take
your usual medications, swallow your medication with sips of water
or clear liquid up to three hours before the procedure. Avoid drinking
orange juice, cream and milk.
If you take an anticoagulation medication (blood thinners such as
Coumadin), you will have to stop the treatment until coagulation
becomes normal, usually within three to five days. Contact your doctor
before stopping any medication to determine if it is safe for you.
On the day of the procedure, patients who use blood thinners should
report to the hospital a little earlier for a blood test to verify
that their anticoagulant has stopped working. If you are unable to
interrupt your anticoagulant regimen, a short in-patient stay for
intravenous treatment with heparin may be required. All patients
should arrange for an adult to drive them home after the procedure.
What does the equipment look like?
A hollow needle (trocar) is passed into the vertebral bone, and
a cement mixture is injected. The cement mixture resembles toothpaste
or epoxy. The physician will monitor the entire procedure on an
fluoroscopy imaging screen to make sure that the cement mixture
remains in the area of treatment, and does not migrate into the
Sedation medication will be administered through an intravenous
catheter. A Foley catheter may be placed in your bladder. You will
be attached to equipment that monitors your heart beat and blood
pressure throughout the procedure.
How does the procedure work?
Vertebroplasty is highly effective because after osteoporosis has
made bones very porous, the cement fills the spaces and strengthens
the bone so it is less likely to fracture again. After vertebroplasty,
the cement stabilizes the fracture, which is thought to provide
the pain relief. Patients begin regaining mobility within 24 hours
and are usually able to reduce, or even eliminate, their pain medication.
How is the procedure performed?
Vertebroplasty is generally performed in the morning. You will
be sedated and receive a local anesthetic to numb the skin and the
muscles near the spinal fracture. Intravenous antibiotics may also
be administered to prevent infection. Through a small incision
and guided by a fluoroscope, a hollow needle is passed through
the spinal muscles until its tip is precisely positioned within
the fractured vertebra. Then the interventional radiologist performs
an examination called intraosseous venography to make sure the
needle has reached a safe spot within the fractured bone. Once
the needle is shown to be in the proper location, the orthopedic
cement is injected. Medical-grade cement hardens quickly, over
the next 10-20 minutes. A CT scan may be performed at the end of
the procedure to check the distribution of the cement. The longest
part of vertebroplasty involves setting up the equipment and making
sure the needle is perfectly positioned in the collapsed vertebra.
What will I experience during the procedure?
You'll be lying face down throughout the procedure. Sedation medications
will help you stay calm, and minimize any discomfort you might
feel during the vertebroplasty. You'll be conscious, though drowsy,
and able to hear anything that's said in the room. During the procedure,
you'll be asked questions, such as, "Does this hurt?" It's
important for you to be able to tell your doctor whether you are
feeling any pain. Because of the position you'll be in, you won't
be able to see the image on the fluoroscope.
For two or three days afterwards, you may feel a bit sore at the
point of the needle insertion. You can use an icepack to relieve
any discomfort, but be sure to protect your skin from the ice with
a cloth; use the pack for only 15 minutes per hour. The tiny incision
will be closed with a strip of tape, and covered with a bandage,
which should remain on for several days. It's important that the
injection site remain clean. You can shower while the bandage is
Bed rest is recommended for the first 24 hours following vertebroplasty,
though you can get up to use the bathroom. Increase your activity
gradually, and resume all your regular medications. If you take blood
thinners, check with your doctor, but you may be able to restart
them the day after the procedure.
Most patients are able to bear weight very soon after undergoing
vertebroplasty. They can get up to walk after resting in bed for
about an hour afterwards, and the interventional radiologist can
often tell at that point if the procedure was successful. In some
cases, it can take a few days for the doctor to be able to make this
Most patients have vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty done in a hospital and stay
overnight afterwards. Some patients experience immediate pain relief after
vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty. Most report that their pain is gone or significantly
better within 48 hours. Many people can resume their normal daily activities
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
Usually, patients will receive follow-up phone calls within the
first week after vertebroplasty to check on their progress and answer
any questions. The referring physician or primary care provider
provides follow-up care.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
- Because the pain of a compression fracture is alleviated by vertrebroplasty,
patients feel significant relief almost immediately. After just
a few weeks, two-thirds of patients are able to lower their doses
of pain medication significantly. Many patients become symptom-free.
- About 75% of patients regain lost mobility and become more active,
which helps combat osteoporosis. After vertebroplasty, patients
who had been immobile can get out of bed, reducing their risk of
pneumonia. Increased activity builds more muscle strength, further
Usually, vertebroplasty is a safe and effective procedure.
- A small amount of orthopedic cement can leak out of the vertebral
body. This does not usually cause a serious problem, unless the
leakage moves into a potentially dangerous location such as the
- Other possible complications include infection, bleeding, increased
back pain, and neurological symptoms such as numbness or tingling.
Paralysis is extremely rare. Sometimes, the procedure causes another
fracture in the spine or ribs.
What are the limitations of Vertebroplasty?
Vertebroplasty is not
used for herniated discs or arthritic back pain.
- Vertebroplasty is not generally recommended for otherwise healthy
younger patients, mostly because there is limited experience with
cement in a vertebral body for longer time periods.
- The procedure cannot serve as a preventive treatment to help
patients with osteoporosis avoid future fractures. It is used only
to repair a known, non-healing compression fracture.
- Vertebroplasty will not correct an osteoporosis-induced curvature
of the spine, but it may keep the curvature from worsening.
- It may be difficult for someone with severe emphysema or other
lung disease to lie facedown for the one to two hours vertebroplasty
requires. The healthcare team will try to make special accommodations
for a patient with this type of condition.
- Patients with a healed vertebral fracture are not candidates