Spinal compression fractures can signal the end of pain-free mobility for those who experience them. Often due to loss of bone density (osteoporosis) and strength, a compression fracture occurs when weakened vertebra in your spine begin to break or splinter with normal activity, such as walking.
Depending on the number of vertebrae involved, and if fractured bone is pressing on a nerve, compression fractures can cause significant pain and interfere with even simple activities like standing. In the past, treatment options available for compression fractures were very limited and most often included bed rest, narcotic pain medications, and back bracing that prevented you from bending.
The pain specialists at Comprehensive Pain Management offer another option: kyphoplasty. This minimally invasive procedure delivers pain relief and bone strengthening that can get you moving again – and it’s delivered via injection. No scalpels or incisions required.
Understanding vertebral compression fractures
The vertebrae are stacked one on top of another in your spine and create the strength and structural support necessary for normal movement. When the vertebrae are weakened by a back injury, spinal tumor, or loss of bone density and strength caused by osteoporosis, fractures can occur with even the simplest movement.
Stepping off a curb, getting out of bed in the morning, or coughing to clear your throat can cause a compression fracture. The snow and ice that’s a normal part of winter in Rhode Island increases your risk of taking a tumble that can cause a compression fracture.
If the fracture is minor, you may not realize it’s occured. However, even mild fractures can cause the affected vertebrae to lose height and collapse into surrounding spinal structures. Bone may press on the spinal cord and nerves, often causing severe pain and limiting the flow of oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to the spine.
What are the symptoms of a compression fracture?
Symptoms related to vertebral compression fractures include:
- Slowly worsening back pain that’s relieved with lying on your back and worsens with standing
- Decreased height
- Limited movement in your spine that prevents you from bending or twisting
- A stooped posture (kyphosis) and/or dowager’s hump in the upper back
If the fracture occurs suddenly, you may also feel abrupt, severe, and disabling back pain. Compression fractures can also cause numbness and tingling in the legs, muscle weakness, difficulty walking, and problems controlling your bowels or bladder due to nerve damage.
What is kyphoplasty?
Developed in the late 1980s and improved on since then with advanced technology and technique, kyphoplasty utilizes quick-setting, bone-friendly cement to support and strengthen the damaged vertebrae. It’s an effective and safe treatment that has restored mobility and provided drug-free pain relief for many people with compression fractures.
Vertebroplasty is a similar treatment that’s available for vertebral compression fractures. However, during kyphoplasty, your pain management specialist first uses tiny, injectable balloons to expand the fractured space and help make the targeted vertebra taller before injecting the bone-strengthening material. This step isn’t used in vertebroplasty.
What can I expect during kyphoplasty?
Kyphoplasty is performed as an outpatient procedure under local anesthetic. This means you won’t feel any discomfort during the procedure, but will remain fully awake. Depending on the number of vertebrae requiring injections, kyphoplasty usually takes 30-60 minutes.
With you lying comfortably on your stomach, your Comprehensive Pain Management specialist uses fluoroscopy (specialized X-ray imaging) to guide him during the procedure. Using a small hollow needle (trocar), your doctor first inserts and inflates the small balloon to expand the targeted space. He then fills the space with the bone cement, removes the needle, and bandages the injection site. No stitches are necessary.
Some patients report pain relief immediately after kyphoplasty, but it generally takes 48 hours before you note significant reduction or elimination of your pain.
To find out whether kyphoplasty is the right treatment for you, schedule a visit with one of the double board-certified pain management specialists at Comprehensive Pain Management, Dr. Chan or Dr. Shwartzman. Simply call the location nearest you in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. Make sure to check out our newest office located at 2870 Post Road in Warwick, RI.