Vertebroplasty is a procedure in which a special cement is injected into a fractured vertebra — with the goal of relieving your spinal pain and restoring your mobility.Not all people with fractured vertebrae are candidates for the procedure, however. Some studies also suggest that vertebroplasty provides little benefit over a more conservative approach, which can include:
Patients should talk with their doctor about vertebroplasty’s risks and benefits. Some doctors may recommend the procedure if:
- Traditional methods of treating your fractured vertebra or back pain fail
- You suffer from severe or prolonged pain or immobility
- The fractured vertebra has led to more serious complications, including: Deep vein thrombosis, acceleration of osteoporosis, respiratory problems, loss of height and emotional or social issues.
Vertebroplasty is generally well tolerated, with complications usually minor and occurring at a rate of 1 percent to 3 percent. But patients can face risks such as:
- Fractures of ribs or other nearby bones
- Cement flowing outside of the bone before it hardens
Vertebroplasty can worsen the pain for a few hours while the cement cures, but that rarely happens and does not last long. You may face other risks depending on your specific condition, so talk to your doctor beforehand about any concerns.
How Vertebroplasty Works
Before the procedure:
- Your doctor will likely order an X-ray, take a complete medical history and do a physical exam to determine the precise location and nature of your vertebra-related pain. Your doctor might also use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or a Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan).
- Tell your doctor about all prescription and over-the-counter medications and any herbal supplements you are taking.
- Tell your doctor if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you are taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications, aspirin or other medications that affect blood clotting.
During the procedure, your doctor:
- Gives you sedation medication to help you relax and keep calm during the procedure, or general anesthesia for severe pain.
- Uses a continuous X-ray to guide the needle into the fractured vertebra, with your body protected from the radiation.
- Slowly injects cement into the vertebra. Depending on how the cement enters the vertebra, your doctor might apply a second injection to completely fill it.
After the procedure:
- You will probably lie on your back for 1 hour while the cement hardens.
- You will likely remain in an observation room for an additional 1 to 2 hours.
- You may experience pain relief almost immediately after the procedure, but it might take up to 72 hours. Your doctor can provide you with over-the-counter pain relievers for the temporary discomfort.
- Your doctor will assess your pain and check for any possible complications.
- You may need to continue wearing a back brace, but it’s usually unnecessary.
- You will come back for a follow-up appointment in a few weeks.