Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are minimally invasive procedures used to treat vertebral compression fractures of the spine. These painful, wedge-shaped fractures can be caused by osteoporosis and injury. Left untreated, they can lead to a humped spine (kyphosis). By restoring the vertebra height with a balloon and injecting cement into the fractured bone, patients can recover faster and reduce the risk of future fractures.
What are vertebroplasty & kyphoplasty?
In vertebral compression fractures (VCF), the body collapses into itself (more in the front than the back) producing a "wedged" vertebra (Fig. 1). When several vertebrae become wedge-shaped, people can develop a humped spine, called kyphosis. People with bones weakened by osteoporosis (a depletion of calcium) or multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow) are especially prone to compression fractures. Activities, such as lifting a heavy object, sneezing, or coughing may cause fractures. VCFs can lead to back pain, reduced physical activity, depression, loss of independence, decreased lung capacity, and difficulty sleeping.
Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are similar procedures. Both are performed through a hollow needle that is passed through the skin of your back into the fractured vertebra. In vertebroplasty, bone cement (called polymethylmethacrylate) is injected through the hollow needle into the fractured bone. In kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to expand the compressed vertebra to its normal height before filling the space with bone cement. The procedures are repeated for each affected vertebra. The cement-strengthened vertebra allows you to stand straight, reduces your pain, and prevents further fractures.
Without treatment, the fractures will eventually heal, but in a collapsed position. The benefit of kyphoplasty is that your vertebra is returned to normal position before the bone hardens. Patients who've had kyphoplasty report significantly less pain after treatment .
Studies show that people who get one osteoporotic fracture are 5 times more likely to develop additional fractures. It is important that people seek treatment for osteoporosis early, before fractures occur.
Who is a candidate?
Vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty may be a treatment option if you have painful vertebral compression fractures from:
- Osteoporosis (a depletion of calcium in bones)
- Metastatic tumor (cancer spread from another area)
- Multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow)
- Vertebral hemangioma (benign vascular tumor)
You may not be a candidate if you have:
- Non-painful stable compression fractures
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Bleeding disorders
- Allergy to medications used during the procedure
- Fracture fragment or tumor in the spinal canal
Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty will not improve old and chronic fractures, nor will they reduce back pain associated with poor posture and stooping forward. Traditional treatment used to involve waiting 4 to 6 weeks to see if patients improved on their own, but now it's believed that waiting allows the bone to harden, making vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty less effective. Many doctors are now suggesting vertebroplasty as soon as the first week after a fracture for some patients because the results are significantly better .
The surgical decision
The surgeon will perform a complete medical history and physical exam. Diagnostic studies (MRI, CT, bone scan) may be included in your evaluation to make a diagnosis of vertebral compression fracture. Your surgeon will also determine if your spine is "stable" or "unstable" and will discuss with you all treatment options.
Who performs the procedure?
Kyphoplasty can be performed by a neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, or interventional neuroradiologist. Many spine surgeons have specialized training in minimally invasive spine surgery. Ask your surgeon about his or her training and success rate with these procedures.
What happens before surgery?
In the doctor's office you will fill out paperwork and sign consent forms so that your surgeon knows your medical history (allergies, medicines/vitamins, bleeding history, anesthesia reactions, previous surgeries, etc.). Presurgical tests (e.g., blood test, electrocardiogram, chest X-ray) may need to be done several days before surgery. Consult your primary care physician about stopping certain medications and ensure you are cleared for surgery.
Continue taking the medications your surgeon recommends. Stop taking all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) and blood thinners (Coumadin, aspirin, Plavix, etc.) 7 days before surgery. Stop using nicotine and drinking alcohol 1 week before and 2 weeks after surgery to avoid bleeding and healing problems.
You may be asked to wash your skin with Hibiclens (CHG) or Dial soap before surgery. It kills bacteria and reduces surgical site infections. (Avoid getting CHG in eyes, ears, nose or genital areas.)
Don’t eat or drink after midnight before surgery (unless the hospital tells you otherwise). You may take permitted medicines with a small sip of water.
Patients are admitted to the hospital the morning of the procedure. To minimize pain and discomfort, you will be given either general anesthesia, which puts you to sleep, or conscious sedation. Under conscious sedation you are awake, but feel no pain and may have no memory of the procedure.
What happens during surgery?
There are five steps to the procedure, which generally takes 1 hour for each vertebra treated.
Step 1: prepare the patient
You will lie on the operative table and be given conscious sedation. Once sedated, you will be positioned on your stomach with your chest and sides supported by pillows. Depending on the section of the spine (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) where the compressed vertebra is located, your back or neck will be cleansed and prepped.
Step 2: insert the needle
A local anesthetic is injected in the area where a small, half-inch skin incision will be made over the fractured bone. With the aid of a fluoroscope (a special X-ray), two large diameter needles are inserted into the vertebral body through the pedicles (Fig 2). The fluoroscopy monitor allows the surgeon to see exactly where the needles are positioned and how far they are inserted. The needles are advanced through the bone using either a twisting motion or a tapping mallet. The needles are angled to avoid the spinal cord. Depending on the vertebral level, a single needle may be used.
Step 3: restore vertebra height (kyphoplasty only)
If the vertebra is significantly wedge-shaped, the surgeon will insert inflatable balloons through the needles into the vertebra. To insert the balloon tamps, the surgeon first uses a drill to create a working channel. The surgeon carefully inflates the balloons, raising the vertebra back to its normal height (Fig. 3). The amount of height restored depends on the age of the fracture. The balloons are deflated and withdrawn, leaving a space in the middle of the vertebra. This procedure is called kyphoplasty because it reduces unwanted kyphosis, or forward curvature, before the bone is stabilized.
Step 4: inject bone cement
Bone cement is slowly injected under pressure, filling the deepest area first, then withdrawing the needle slightly to fill top areas (Fig 4). The pressure and amount of cement injected are closely monitored to avoid leakage into unwanted areas. While complete filling of the vertebral body is ideal, it is not always possible or necessary for pain relief.
Step 5: closure
The needles are withdrawn promptly before the cement hardens. The small skin incision is closed with skin glue or steri-strips. You will not be moved from the operating table until the remaining cement in the mixing bowl hardens.
What happens after surgery?
You will return to the recovery area. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration will be monitored, and your pain will be addressed. You'll remain lying down for the first hour after the procedure. After 1 hour you may sit up. After 2 hours you may get up and walk. Most patients stay in the hospital overnight for observation and are released the next morning. Some patients can be released home the same day. Be sure to have someone at home to help you for the first 24 to 48 hours.
Follow the surgeon’s home care instructions for 2 weeks after surgery or until your follow-up appointment. In general, you can expect:
- Avoid bending or twisting your back.
- Don’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds.
- No strenuous activity including yard work, housework, and sex.
- Don’t drive the first 2-3 days or while taking pain medicines or muscle relaxers. If your pain is well controlled, you can drive.
- Don’t drink alcohol. It thins the blood and increases the risk of bleeding. Also, don’t mix alcohol with pain medicines.
- Get up and walk 5-10 minutes every 3-4 hours. Gradually increase walking, as you are able.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after cleaning your incision to prevent infection.
- You may shower the day after surgery.
- If you have a Band-aid over the incision, remove it one day after surgery.
- Gently wash the incision covered in Dermabond skin glue with soap and water every day. Don’t rub or pick at the glue. Pat dry.
- If there is drainage, cover the incision with a dry gauze dressing. If drainage soaks through two or more dressings in a day, call the office.
- Don’t soak the incision in a bath or pool.
- Don’t apply lotion/ointment on the incision.
- Take pain medicines as directed by your surgeon. Reduce the amount and frequency as your pain subsides. If you don’t need the pain medicine, don’t take it.
- Narcotics can cause constipation. Drink lots of water and eat high-fiber foods. Stool softeners and laxatives can help move the bowels. Colace, Senokot, Dulcolax and Miralax are over-the-counter options.
When to Call Your Doctor
- If your temperature exceeds 101.5 °F or if the incision begins to separate or show signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pain, or drainage.
- If you experience difficulty walking or bowel or bladder problems.
What are the results?
The sooner a fracture is repaired, the better the results. Vertebroplasy relieves pain in 75-90% of patients; however, it does not correct the wedge deformity, which can lead to repeat fractures.
In a recent study of kyphoplasty, pain levels in patients dropped from an average of 8.6 before surgery (on a 10-point scale) to 2.1 three months after surgery . Additionally, of 51 patients who either couldn't move around on their own or required assistance to move, only 8 patients couldn't move around without assistance after three months. This reduction in pain and increased ability to move significantly improved the patients' quality of life. Other studies in cancer patients with multiple myeloma have shown similar results.
What are the risks?
No surgery is without risks. General complications of any surgery include bleeding, infection, blood clots, and reactions to anesthesia. Complications in the treatment of vertebral compression fractures is less than 2%, and 5 to 10% in the treatment of tumors. The following are specific risks that should be considered:
Bone cement leakage. There is a slight possibility that bone cement can leak along the outside of the needle into surrounding soft tissues. This can also happen when the needle is removed from the vertebra. Cement can leak into the veins surrounding the vertebra. The surgeon closely watches the fluoroscope and stops injecting cement if this begins to happen. Cement can leak into the neural foramen where the spinal nerve exits the spinal cord. This can cause nerve pain (radiculopathy) and may require further treatment.
Nerve damage. Any operation on the spine comes with the risk of damaging the spinal nerves or cord, which can cause numbness or paralysis.
Sources & links
If you have more questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.
- Ledlie JT, Renfro M: Balloon kyphoplasty: one-year outcomes in vertebral body height restoration, chronic pain, and activity levels. J Neurosurg 98(1 Suppl): 36-42, 2003
- Wong W, Reiley MA, Garfin S: Vertebroplasty/Kyphoplasty. J Women's Imaging 2(3):117-124, 2000
fluoroscopy: an imaging device that uses x-rays to view structures in the body in real time, or "live." Also called a C-arm.
hemangioma: a benign tumor that forms from blood vessels in the brain or spinal cord.
kyphoplasty: a minimally invasive procedure used to treat vertebral compression fractures by inflating a balloon to restore bone height then injecting bone cement into the vertebral body.
kyphosis: abnormal curve of the thoracic spine, also called hunchback.
osteoporosis: a depletion of calcium in the bones making them weak, brittle, and prone to fracture. Common in elderly women after menopause. Can be prevented early in life with calcium and regular exercise to stimulate bone metabolism.
pedicle: the thin, bony bridge that connects the vertebral body with the outer processes.
vertebral compression fracture (VCF): a break in the vertebral body of the spine causing it to collapse and produce a wedge-shaped deformity.
vertebroplasty: a minimally invasive procedure used to treat vertebral compression fractures by injecting bone cement into the vertebral body.
reviewed by: Andrew Ringer, MD, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio
Mayfield Certified Health Info materials are written and developed by the Mayfield Clinic. This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your health care provider.