Osteoporosis, a common bone disease, accounts for 2 million broken bones each year, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Patients with osteoporosis often have fractures in their hips or wrists, but many patients experience spinal fractures caused by the disease, too. Spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis are extremely painful, and can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life and mobility. Osteoporosis-related spinal fractures are treated with kyphoplasty, a specialized spinal therapy that gives patients relief and helps to regain mobility.
Osteoporosis happens when the body stops making bone. Like all cells in the body, bone cells are always being renewed. New cells form as old cells break down. When more old cells are breaking down in comparison to new cells being formed, bone loss occurs. As a result of bone loss, bones weaken and become brittle.
Osteoporosis typically strikes post-menopausal Caucasian and Asian women but can impact both men and women of all races. Patients younger than the age of 60 with osteoporosis usually have a family history of osteoporosis, and may also have lifestyle factors that contribute to an early onset of the disease. Lifestyle factors that contribute to osteoporosis include smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Other causes of the disease include poor diet and hormonal conditions, such as thyroid disorders, and the use of some medications, like steroids, which interrupt bone cell regeneration.
When the bones of the spine, called vertebrae, become soft, weakened and brittle, they are at risk of fracturing. Spinal fractures can occur as a result of trauma or fall, but the majority of spinal fractures in osteoporosis patients happens as a result of compression. Vertebral bones are no longer able to support the weight of the body as the patient moves. These fractures can happen during normal activities such as walking, climbing stairs, bending over and even coughing if the patient’s osteoporosis is severe.
Spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis are wedge shaped fractures. The wedge shape is a result of the front of the vertebra disintegrating while the back of the bone is unaffected. The fracture occurs in this manner because the back of the vertebrae is harder than the front. The wedge shape of the fracture tips forces the spine to lean forward and curve. This curve is called a kyphotic curve, and if severe, can result in stooped postures.
The standard procedure to correct the kyphotic curve, called a balloon kyphoplasty, treats the painful fracture by inserting a small balloon into the area of fracture to lift up the front that has collapsed. During the kyphoplasty, one or two small incisions are made in the back, and two needles are inserted into the area of the fracture. The needles deliver balloons which will then be inflated, clearing space in the center of the vertebrae. A special bone cement compound will be inserted into the cleared space, which will harden to strengthen the bone. This returns the spine back to its natural shape reduces forward stooping and allows patients to live pain-free.
Dr. Michael Budler, M.D., is an interventional radiologist performing the kyphoplasty procedure for osteoporosis patients with spinal compression fractures in Grand Island, Nebraska. “The kyphoplasty procedure is very beneficial for osteoporosis patients,” he says. “As it fills in the space damaged by the compression fracture, it forces the spine back to its normal position, allowing the patient to stand upright.” It also relieves stress on the rest of the spine, says Budler. “Because spinal compression factors cause forward stooping, the body is constantly under tension as the top half of the patient is thrust forward. Kyphoplasty can relieve the pull on the muscles caused by osteoporosis-related spinal compression fractures,” says Budler. The procedure has an additional benefit of reducing the stress exerted on the back, and can also eliminate or reduce the risk of fracture of adjacent vertebrae. Kyphoplasty can stop the downward spiral brought on by compression fractures,” says Budler.