Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(4):617-618

About 50 million people in the United States have osteoporosis (a decrease in the amount of bone mass) or have thinning of the bones that puts them at risk for spine fractures (broken bones). Thinning of the bones can occur at any time, but is most common in elderly persons. “Compression” fractures are caused when the weakened bone of the spine collapses. This usually causes severe back pain. When several o the bones collapse, loss of height or stooped posture (“widow's hump”) may occur. Usually, the fracture gets better by itself and the pain finally goes away. In many patients, however, the pain continues because the crushed bone continues to move and break.

How are spinal fractures treated?

Most fractures of the spine are treated with bed rest until the pain goes away. Pain medicines, back braces, and physical therapy may also be used. In some cases, a medicine called Calcitonin can be given. It appears to help make the bone stronger and control the pain. Sometimes, patients may need surgery to secure the spine using a bone graft or an internal metal device. Recently, a new treatment called “vertebroplasty” is being used to help hold the fractured bone in place and relieve pain.

What is percutaneous vertebroplasty?

The procedure involves placing a small needle into the crushed bone. A bone cement is injected into the bone to secure it. Several crushed bones can be treated at the same time. Your doctor guides the needle into position using special x-ray equipment. Therefore, open surgery is not needed. The procedure takes about one hour and is usually done using only numbing medicine. Some patients who are in severe pain may need extra medicine to make them sleepy. Usually, patients can leave the hospital a few hours after the procedure is done.

What is the recovery like?

Many patients feel pain relief right away after vertebroplasty. Most report that their pain is gone or is much better within 48 hours. Most patients resume normal activity within 24 hours.

Is the procedure safe?

Vertebroplasty is very safe. The bone cement used to secure the broken bone is safe. Patients with tumors on the spine may be at slightly higher risk of complications. You should always discuss the risks of any procedure with your doctor.

How do I know if vertebroplasty is right for me?

If you have significant back pain caused by a broken bone in your back that is not better after one to two weeks of bed rest and pain control medicine, you may need vertebroplasty. Newer fractures tend to respond better than older fractures; however, some older fractures can be treated successfully. The procedure does not help with chronic back pain or herniated discs.

How successful is vertebroplasty?

In the United States, 75 to 90 percent of people treated with vertebroplasty will have complete pain relief or significant reduction of their pain.

Learning More About Vertebroplasty

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