FAQ’s on Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty

What are Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty?

Each of these is a unique approach with a shared goal of providing stabilization of the spine for a patient who has had a spinal fracture. This is accomplished with the goal of providing Pain Relief to a patient. These procedures are based on the application of a unique spinal cement to help re-stabilize the spine through the healing process following injury.

What conditions will Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty treat?

These procedures are designed to assist patients who have had a spinal compression fracture that is causing pain in one (or more) of the damaged vertebrae. Compression fractures occur when a spinal vertebrae is compressed (pressure is placed upon it) beyond what the bone can withstand, resulting in the fracturing of the bone. This commonly occurs more in older patients, namely those beyond the age of 70 who have had one or more bone-weakening conditions throughout their life. The most common culprits are osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer, each of which can weaken the bones of the spine.

One important note is that a patient can be currently living with a spinal compression fracture and not be aware of it, as minor fractures may not result in pain or a loss of spinal support. More commonly for the patient however, compression fractures result in severe pain and muscle spasms in the back.

How are Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty performed?

The end goal with the procedures is the same: to provide relief for a compression fracture and create spinal stabilization. Each is simply a different approach to this goal.

Kyphoplasty is an outpatient procedure designed to be minimally invasive for the patient. A small incision will be made into the area of the back above the damaged portion of the spine, where catheters will be inserted. Fluoroscopic imaging will be used to guide these catheters into the fracture where a balloon will be inflated into the fracture with a saline solution. This balloon serves to force the remaining pieces of broken bone aside with a goal of creating a large, clean area to insert the spinal cement into.

Vertebroplasty begins much the same way, with a small incision into the back and the inserting of catheters guided by fluoroscopic imaging. Once these are placed however is where the procedures differ, as instead of using a balloon to create space vertebroplasty simply injects the bone cement at this time. After time, this cement will harden to encompass the damaged vertebrae, providing a solid frame of support for the spine once more. This cement injection is not designed to heal the fracture but instead to just provide solid support for the spine and to return function to it.

How well do Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty work?

The prime difference between the two approaches of Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty is the way the spinal cement is inserted into the fracture. Vertebroplasty inserts the fluid under high pressure in order to flow around any potential obstacles, while kyphoplasty is able to inject the cement under low pressure as – ideally- all obstacles will have been removed via the saline balloon. Each procedure is able to provide benefit to a patient still experiencing symptomatic pains, with the extent of relief provided depending on what portion of symptoms are directly being caused by the fracture.

Symptoms resulting from other areas of complication are likely to not be affected by either of these. That being said, over 90% of patients undergoing one of these are able to obtain relief lasting for an extended period of time if used soon after a fracture occurs.

What are the risks of Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty?

Each of these procedures is considered to be low risk. There is a small chance of infection or soreness at the injection site, and a chance of allergic reaction to the cement used.

The real risk, although it’s rare, is the chance of the cement leaking into other areas of the body where it can potentially harden on (or around) other tissue, such as a nerve.

What is the bottom line with Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty?

Provided Kyphoplasty and Vertebroplasty are performed in the post-fracture timeframe (2-3 months), these low-risk procedures can provide lifelong, long-lasting benefits to patients.