The 33 vertebrae that make up your spinal column withstand a lot of force as you move through life, and eventually, with aging and weaking bones or injury, it’s not uncommon for a vertebra to fracture and slump down. Medical researchers say that 700,000 cases of fractured vertebra happen every year in the United States alone.
The result can produce a great deal of pain in addition to bringing about spinal curvature and other serious spinal problems. In the past, physicians would have tried to immobilize a fractured vertebra with braces, and told patients to move as little as possible for weeks or possibly months, hoping the bone would heal. But because the cause of the fracture could result from a fundamental weakness in bone formation from osteoporosis—fractures can occur simply from coughing or very minor falls—bones often wouldn’t heal.
Balloon Kyphoplasty can be a remarkably effective solution to fractured vertebrae, with the added bonus of very rapid relief from pain and a return to normal activity.
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How it works is the physician inserts probes, about the diameter of a pencil, into each side of the fractured vertebra. Once the probe reaches its destination, the physician inflates and then deflates a tiny surgical balloon. The inflation correctly re-positions the vertebra, and the deflation leaves a space into which the physician injects an epoxy that hardens quickly and stabilizes the vertebra.
“People come in for the procedure, and beforehand they can’t sit or stand, and after the procedure, they can sit and stand almost immediately,” says Dr. Paul Davis, of Traverse City. “When you wake up from the anesthetic, the pain is gone.” 231-935-5000, munsonhealthcare.org.