Back pain treatment can vary widely, depending on the actual condition that is causing the pain. In the case of compression fractures, vertebroplasty is commonly used. This treatment reduces back pain by at least 90% within a day or two after the procedure. The results usually last for years.
Understanding Compression Fractures
Around a quarter of all postmenopausal American women have at least one spinal compression fracture. The vast majority of those with this type of fracture also suffer from osteoporosis, which makes the bones more porous and fragile. Even though women are considerably more at risk for the disease, men can also suffer from low bone density.
There are three types of bone compression fractures.
Wedge: This type of break only compromises the front of the vertebra and the back remains stable.
Crush: The entire bone is broken and may appear crushed.
Burst: This is the most unstable type of break and involves height loss in the front and back of the vertebra.
Apart from osteoporosis, tumors or trauma can also cause compression fractures. The pain is most often felt in the lower to mid-spine and ends to be very sharp if caused by trauma or a sudden fracture. When the compression fracture has occurred over time, the pain may be slower and minor at first, increasing with walking. Some people can lose up to six inches of height or develop a dowager’s hump.
What is Vertebroplasty?
To stabilize the fracture, bone cement is injected into the broken vertebra. X-rays are used to ensure that the needle is placed in the correct position and the cement is injected. It fills the spaces and holds the pieces of the fragmented vertebra in place. It is similar to an internal casting, which will support the spine and keep it sturdy for years to come.
The entire procedure is done under local anesthetic and the patient will only have a small puncture wound in the spine. The procedure will take longer if more than one vertebra needs support. It usually takes about an hour per vertebra. The patient will need to lie on their back until the cement is hardened.
Once stabilized with cement, the bone should remain stable. Even if it has been weakened by osteoporosis, the bone will hold up to more trauma and compression with the spaces filled in.
Recuperation After the Procedure
While vertebroplasty is usually an outpatient procedure, most patients will find that they need bed rest for at least 24 hours after the procedure, if not more. While the technique is useful in preventing further pain, it is also a good idea to treat the underlying condition that caused the break in the first place. Osteoporosis is completely treatable and future fractures may be prevented.
As a back pain treatment method, this technique is highly effective where recommended. It also prevents future fractures in the same place. Most people find that they recover their ability to walk and exercise again. In some cases, rehab or physical therapy may be necessary in order to recover completely.