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Hard and Fast Results for Traumatic Spine Fractures

Posted on: 05/20/2002
Traumatic fractures to the middle back are typically treated with surgery. Surgeons implant screws and rods (called instrumentation) to hold the spine in place. With the help of instrumentation, the space between the vertebrae--or disc space--is restored.

But what happens when the instrumentation is taken out? In some cases, the disc between the bones of the spine squeezes through the main body of the vertebrae. This causes the vertebral body to collapse, and the disc space is lost. An exaggerated forward bend of the spine, or kyphosis, results.

A group of doctors tried out a new way to maintain disc space and prevent the vertebral body from collapsing. They tested their method on cadavers (human bodies preserved for study). After doing surgery to stabilize the broken bones, the doctors inserted a balloon-like device into the vertebral body and then inflated the balloon. This created a space inside the broken bone. Calcium-based cement was injected directly into this space.

The doctors believed that once the cement dried, it would preserve the proper alignment of the spine. They had two main questions: Was this procedure possible, and was it safe?

The answers, according to this study, are "yes" and "yes." The procedure is called vertebroplasty, and it effectively keeps the vertebral body from collapsing.

Cement injection appears to be a safe, effective way to keep the vertebral body sturdy after surgery to stabilize fractures of the middle back. The next step is to test the procedure on live human models.

J. J. Verlaan, MD, et al. Balloon Vertebroplasty with Calcium Phosphate Cement Augmentation for Direct Restoration of Traumatic Thoracolumbar Vertebral Fractures. In Spine. March 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 5. Pp. 543-548.

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