Our vertebral body augmentation techniques treat fractures in the spine by injecting a medical bone cement into a collapsed or fractured vertebra, in order to stabilize and strengthen it.
Developed more than 35 years ago, this technique is designed to both relieve pain and prevent future fractures. This procedure required open back spinal surgery in the past, but now those who would prefer to avoid open back spinal surgery may be able to find relief from minimally invasive spine surgery. At the Spine Institute Northwest, we offer two minimally invasive vertebral body augmentation (VBA) procedures—vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty—that can help treat vertebral compression fractures.
What Is a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
Vertebral compression fractures are most commonly caused by osteoporosis or by an acute injury. In some cases, the cause can be a combination of the two—bones weakened by osteoporosis are more likely to fracture from a relatively minor trauma. It doesn’t have to be a fall; even the pressure from a sudden sneeze can be enough to fracture extremely weak vertebrae. In a compression fracture, parts of the vertebra collapse in either a wedge or biconcave fracture. This “compresses” the space between the vertebrae on either side, which can cause the sufferer to stoop or to appear to have lost height.
Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle, and can lead to reduced height, a bent posture, or fractures. Osteoporosis is most strongly associated with age—we lose bone mass naturally as we grow older—but risk factors including smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive use of alcohol, a low-calcium diet, and the use of certain medications can increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis. Once osteoporosis has weakened the bone, minor movements like bending forward, lifting objects, or climbing stairs can potentially lead to a vertebral compression fracture.
How Can I Tell if I Have a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
For some people, an acute injury is immediately noticeable, with symptoms like sudden and intense back pain, pain that gets worse when walking or standing, increased pain when bending or twisting, and relief from pain when you’re lying down. For others though, the symptoms may be more subtle; these can include loss of appetite, diminished lung function, sleep issues, and in some cases anxiety or depression. We tend to think of losing height or having a stooped posture as simply symptomatic of old age, but this kind of spinal deformity is more likely the result of multiple vertebral compression fractures. In addition to changing your physical appearance, these symptoms can also make day-to-day activities painful or difficult.
What Happens in a VBA Surgery?
At the Spine Institute Northwest, we perform two different kinds of minimally invasive VBA procedures. With vertebroplasty, the surgeon uses a flexible needle to precicely deliver a special cement directly to the collapsed vertebra. This cement hardens into a stabilizing material, helping to relieve pain and prevent future fractures. In kyphoplasty, our doctors use image guidance technology to create a small and precise incision, then insert a cage device into the center of the fractured vertebra. They inject a small amount of medical-grade acrylic cement called polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) into the cage. When this hardens, it helps to stabilize and strengthen the fracture and vertebral body.
What Kind of Results Can I Expect from a VBA Procedure?
This type of surgery uses a small incision, allowing most patients to be in and out of our surgical center in one day, and to enjoy a much quicker return to normal activity. Minimally invasive spine procedures allow patients to be under local or general anesthesia, and most patients are able to walk within a few hours of the procedure. Patients often experience significant improvement from their fracture symptoms within six to twelve weeks, and can return to their normal activities once the fracture has fully healed.
To learn more about treatment options and schedule a free consultation, contact the Spine Institute Northwest today at (425) 486-1000.