Vertebral compression fracture is the term given to bones of the spine (i.e. the vertebra) that have collapsed. This is due to defects or weaknesses in the bone, causing reductions in its height relative to the bones on top of or below it. These defects accumulate until cracks appear in the bones affected. As a result, the bone can no longer hold up its portion of the load on the spine. This results in hunching of the back or loss of height. Compression fractures in the neck may also adversely affect the joints between vertebrae, which will also cause pain. Cracks in spinal bones may also result in painful compression of the spinal cord, due to its abnormal structure.
A variation on this procedure is kyphoplasty, in which a small balloon is inserted and inflated to lift the bone so that cement can be appropriately added. Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are effective in treating vertebral compression fractures. They have minimal risks, such as infection and bleeding at the site of needle insertion. There is also a possibility that the cement may “leak” out of the bone, causing inflammation and thus further pain. These procedures are common in patients suffering with osteolytic cancers (which erode bone) or spinal tumors.
Vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty are often combined with other pain-relieving techniques for maximal effect. An example of this is a nerve block, which involves injections of steroids and local anesthetics, given via needle directly to spinal nerves as they are responsible for sending painful stimuli to the brain. Nerve blocks in the back and neck are effective in pain relief for patients with vertebral compression fractures. Blocks can also be applied to the joints between cracked vertebrae to relieve pain.
Another technique often combined with vertebroplasties for treating vertebral compression fractures is radiofrequency ablation. This technique involves the introduction of thin probes through the skin. These probes deliver electro-thermal impulses to the pain-transmitting fibers of spinal nerves, which blocks recurrent pain more completely. Radiofrequency ablation may cause bleeding, infection, and paralysis due to inadvertent motor nerve damage
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