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Cement appearing as dark material
injected through vertebroplasty needle.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become thin and fragile. It is called a “silent disease” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a simple strain, twist of the body, bump or fall causes a bone fracture. Fractures may occur in the hip, wrist, ribs or elsewhere, but one of the more common sites is in the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column.

Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include:

  • Being female
  • Being thin or having a small frame
  • Advanced age
  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • Being postmenopausal
  • A diet low in calcium
  • Long-term use of medications such as corticosteroids or anticonvulsants
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol

What is Vertebroplasty?

Until recently, reduced activity and pain medications were the only treatments available for vertebral fractures associated with osteoporosis. For those patients who have unresolved chronic pain, now there is a safe, minimally invasive treatment called vertebroplasty. Studies show that about 90 percent of people treated with vertebroplasty have complete or significant reduction of their pain.

In the procedure, a needle is inserted through the skin and into the crushed vertebrae. A special bone cement used for medical purposes is injected into the bone to stabilize it.

Often, more than one crushed vertebrae can be treated in a single procedure. Open surgery is not required because the interventional radiologist is able to guide the needle to the spot using special X-ray equipment.

Vertebroplasty takes from one to two hours to perform, depending on how many bones are treated. Usually, the procedure may be performed with mild sedation and local anesthesia that numbs the treated area. Some patients experience immediate pain relief after vertebroplasty. Most report that their pain is gone or significantly better within 48 hours. Many people can resume normal daily activities within hours to days after treatment.

Who is a candidate for Vertebroplasty?

People who have suffered recent fractures that are causing severe back pain despite standard therapy with rest and pain medications, are the best candidates for vertebroplasty. The procedure provides most relief when done within a few weeks of the fracture and works best when treated after the initial diagnosis. Chronically painful fractures causing pain for months to years are also very frequently treated with excellent results. The procedure is not used to treat arthritis or herniated disks.

What are the risks or complications?

Vertebroplasty is a very safe procedure with few risks. Complications are rare and should be discussed with your doctor. As with any medical procedure, the possibility of complications will depend on the individual patient. For example, patients with tumors in the spine or with other serious medical conditions may be at higher risk for complications from vertebroplasty. Your interventional radiologist will work closely with your primary care or other physician to be sure you receive the best possible care.

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Copyright © 2009 Radiological Society of North America, Inc. (RSNA)