Vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) happen when a vertebral body collapses in height. Patients with osteoporosis are especially prone to VCFs because their bones weaken. Something as simple as coughing, twisting, or lifting can cause their vertebrae to fracture.
Round in shape, the vertebral body crumbles into the shape of a wedge. The spine angles forward and becomes hunched in appearance. This is called spinal kyphosis. A severe kyphosis can put pressure on the lungs and digestive system, hampering breathing and appetite.
VCFs can be very painful, making it hard to do daily activities. And VCFs can produce a host of spine problems, such as pressure on the nerves or spinal cord. All of these factors point to a higher mortality rate for patients who have VCFs.
Treatment may include bed rest, pain medication, and bracing. A new, minimally invasive procedure called kyphoplasty is showing promise for easing pain and helping patients achieve improved posture. This procedure uses a balloon-like device to renew the space inside the fractured vertebra. A special bone cement is then injected into the cavity formed by the balloon. By fixing the vertebral body in its correct size and position, kyphosis is reduced.
In a recent study, patients felt much better and had improved function after this procedure. In many cases, the treatment also restored the original height of the vertebral body. Kyphoplasty adds a new and effective dimension to nonsurgical treatment of VCFs due to osteoporosis.