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Posted: Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Treat a Spinal Fracture

If you’ve reached a certain age and have lived a fairly active lifestyle, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve fractured something along the way. Whether it’s a wrist, a rib or a hip, fractures can be painful and take time to heal. You may not realize, however, that you also can fracture your spine. Spinal fractures occur when one of the bones of your spinal column weakens and collapses, and believe it or not, these fractures can be quite common. In fact, they’re twice as common as wrist fractures and four times as common as hip fractures. Unlike other fractures, however, spinal fractures often are ignored, causing delays in diagnoses and increasing the potential for long-term pain. Fortunately, there are ways to treat a spinal fracture that are minimally invasive and involve very little pain.

Blount Memorial interventional radiologist Dr. James K. Cox says a procedure called kyphoplasty can be helpful. “Kyphoplasty is performed through two needles that are half the diameter of a pencil,” Cox said. “Two balloon catheters are inserted to elevate the fracture, followed by an injection of bone cement. The procedure is performed in a surgery suite mainly for infection control and proper sedation. The whole procedure only takes between 15 and 20 minutes, and usually the patient can go home within two hours,” he explained. “More than 90 percent of patients wake up with little-to-no pain. The main risk with kyphoplasty is infection, so we always give an antibiotic before the procedure. While the risks are minimal, the rewards are great. Most patients are off their pain medications the same day as the procedure,” he added.

What makes a person a good candidate for kyphoplasty? “Obviously, patients who have spinal fractures are candidates for this procedure,” Cox said. “Fractures typically are seen in our older population secondary to osteoporosis or bone loss. Patients requiring steroid treatment are also at risk. Also, if you’re over age 50, are postmenopausal, or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or low bone mineral density, you may benefit from an evaluation. This procedure also is great for treatment of cancer involving the spine. Kyphoplasty permanently casts the fracture keeping the bone from moving, preventing the cause for pain. Patients typically will describe very little trauma such as a cough that results in pain, pain bending over to pick something up or a fall that results in immediate pain,” he said. “We usually start with an X-ray followed by a MRI or CT (computed tomography) scan,” he added.

“If you suspect you or a loved one has a spinal fracture, it’s important to seek medical attention. Vertebral fractures often are neglected, and can lead to chronic pain as well as stooped posture, poor nutrition, and loss in overall quality-of-life,” Cox said.

For more information about kyphoplasty, Cox can be reached at his office by calling 865-981-2145.

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