What are spinal fracture symptoms and risks?
Sudden, severe back pain that’s new or different than chronic pain or soreness, especially after a minor fall, a sneeze, or lifting something, could be a spinal fracture, also called a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). Spinal fractures can have serious consequences. If you have, or are at risk of having, osteoporosis and you experience sudden back pain that persists for more than a few days, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.
How are spinal fractures diagnosed?
After a physical exam, imaging tests such as x-rays or MRI will be ordered to confirm a spinal fracture diagnosis. Your primary care doctor may do the exam and diagnosis or may refer you to a specialist. After treatment with balloon kyphoplasty, your doctor will advise you on managing your underlying condition (such as, osteoporosis).
How can I tell what my fracture risk is?
Approximately 1 in 4 postmenopausal women are affected by spinal fractures, a risk that increases with age.* Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 fractures typically go undiagnosed and untreated.1
Having osteoporosis is a big risk factor, and having had one spinal fracture significantly increases your chances of having another. Other risk factors include your age, gender, and lifestyle. While more common in women, men also get spinal fractures and should bring symptoms or concerns to their doctor.
Over time, multiple fractures can disrupt the shape of your spine, causing it to tilt forward (sometimes called a dowager's hump). This could affect your balance and even compress your chest, making it difficult to breathe, eat or sleep well.2,3
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis, a common condition, causes weakening of the bones and is a frequently to blame for spinal fractures. It is estimated that more than 50 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass, and around 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.4
Because bones are less strong in people with osteoporosis, they can break more easily – even without an obvious cause or injury. And the bones in your spinal column are less dense and “spongier” than the bones elsewhere in your skeleton and thus more vulnerable to fracture.
Osteoporosis risk may be related to genetics and can also be affected by menopause, lifestyle choices like smoking and inactivity, and certain conditions and treatments.
Spinal fractures can cause the bones in your spine to collapse, and as a result, height loss can occur. Sometimes spinal fractures are the first sign that you may have osteoporosis.
Report any new or unusual back pain to your doctor promptly. Early diagnosis, including a physical exam and x-ray imaging, can help determine whether you have a spinal fracture and which treatment options may help.
How does balloon kyphoplasty work?
Kyphon™ balloon kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure to repair spinal fractures (broken bones in your back). It takes about an hour to treat a fracture, and the procedure can be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis.
During the procedure, the physician will create two small holes in your back to access the fractured vertebra (back bone) and insert two cannulas, which are smaller in diameter than drinking straws. Through these cannulas, balloons are inserted and then inflated to try and raise the fractured bone closer to its normal anatomy while also creating a cavity for the bone cement.
The balloons are then deflated and removed, and bone cement is placed in the cavity and will remain there, acting as an internal cast to fix the fractured bone in place. Then the cannulas are removed, and the physician will close the small holes, the medical team will bring you out of anesthesia or sedation, and you will spend some time recovering. You’ll be encouraged to walk a bit once you’ve recovered as mobility is important to overall health.
Is balloon kyphoplasty right for me?
If you are diagnosed with an acute spinal fracture, your options are to take pain medications and bed rest until it heals in its fractured shape over several weeks to months (non-surgical measures or “NSM”) or to have a balloon kyphoplasty procedure to repair the fracture. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist who treats spinal fractures and who can explain the benefits and risks of each option.
Balloon kyphoplasty isn’t right for everyone and only a doctor can recommend treatment. Some patients find that they can manage their spinal fracture pain, and others decide that the procedure will allow them to resume their daily activities. Most patients report relief from pain and improved mobility after the balloon kyphoplasty procedure.5
Who can diagnose and treat spinal fractures?
Your regular physician may be able to determine whether your pain is likely to be from a spinal fracture and have x-rays or other film images taken. Any physician should be able to refer you to a specialist who can diagnose and treat spinal fractures—often an interventional radiologist or spine surgeon.
What are the benefits and risks of balloon kyphoplasty?
The balloon kyphoplasty procedure has been in use for over 20 years in more than 1 million fractures. Compared to non-surgical measures, balloon kyphoplasty has been shown in clinical studies to achieve restoration of vertebral body height and correction of vertebral body deformity. Additional benefits include:5-7
Additionally, the studies showed that the safety profile for balloon kyphoplasty is similar to the profile of non-surgical measures.
Although the complication rate for balloon kyphoplasty is low, as with most surgical procedures serious adverse events, some of which can be fatal, can occur, including heart attack, cardiac arrest (heart stops beating), stroke, and embolism (blood, fat or cement that migrates to the lungs or heart). Other risks include infection; leakage of bone cement into the muscle and tissue surrounding the spinal cord and nerve injury that can, in rare instances, cause paralysis; leakage of bone cement into the blood vessels resulting in damage to the blood vessels, lungs and/or heart. This procedure is not for everyone. A prescription is required. Please consult your physician for a discussion of these and other risks and whether this procedure is right for you.
What should I expect before, during, and after the balloon kyphoplasty procedure?
Before the procedure, you will have a medical exam and undergo imaging studies, such as x-rays, to determine the precise location of the fracture. When it’s time for your procedure you will receive anesthesia or sedation.
During the procedure, the physician will work under x-ray guidance to repair the fracture(s) usually in under an hour.
Once the procedure is complete, the physician will close the small holes, the medical team will bring you out of anesthesia or sedation, and you will spend some time recovering.
After the procedure, you’ll be encouraged to walk with help, and most patients go home the same day (outpatient). Patients often report relief from pain and improved mobility after the balloon kyphoplasty procedure.5
Your doctor will probably schedule a follow up visit and explain limitations, if any, on your activity. Most patients are very satisfied with the procedure and are gradually able to resume activity once discharged from the hospital. Patients often report a swift return to activities they enjoyed prior to suffering with the back pain of a spinal fracture.
Left untreated, spinal fractures can disrupt the alignment of your spine, causing it to tilt forward into what is commonly called a “dowager's hump.” If you’ve lost height or you have a dowager's hump, you may have had spinal fractures.TAKE THE QUIZ
Among white women in the U.S.
IOF. https://www.iofbonehealth.org/breaking-spine-report-2010. Accessed December 2018.
Silverman SL. The clinical consequences of vertebral compression fracture. Bone. 1992;13 Suppl 2:S27-S31. (Historical disease state information on vertebral compression fractures. Medtronic comment, March 2013).
Gold DT. The clinical impact of vertebral fractures: quality of life in women with osteoporosis. Bone. 1996;18(3 Suppl):185S- 189S. Review. (Historical information on epidemiology of spinal osteoporosis and QOL. Medtronic comment, March 2013).
National Osteoporosis Foundation website. https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/. Accessed Feb 12, 2019.
Ledlie J, et al. Kyphoplasty Treatment of Vertebral Fractures: 2-Year Outcomes Show Sustained Benefits. Spine. 2006;31(1):57-64.
Garfin S, et al. Balloon kyphoplasty for symptomatic vertebral body compression fractures results in rapid, significant, and sustained improvements in back pain, function, and quality of life for elderly patients. Spine. 2006. 31(19):2213-20.
Gaitanis I, et al. Balloon kyphoplasty for the treatment of pathological vertebral compressive fractures. Eur Spine J. 2005. 14(3):250-60.
Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.