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Vertebroplasty is an image-guided, non-surgical therapy used to strengthen a broken vertebra (spinal bone) weakened by osteoporosis or less commonly by cancer. The minimally invasive procedure is usually successful at alleviating the pain and loss of movement caused by the compression fractures that often accompany osteoporosis. After menopause, women are especially vulnerable to bone loss. More than one-quarter of women over age 65 will develop a vertebral fracture due to osteoporosis.
Older people suffering from compression fractures tend to become less mobile, and their decreased mobility can accelerate bone loss. High doses of pain medication, especially narcotic drugs, further limit functional ability.
Vertebroplasty can increase the patient's functional abilities, allow a return to the previous level of activity, and prevent further vertebral collapse. Often performed on an outpatient basis, vertebroplasty is accomplished by injecting an orthopedic fortifying mixture through a needle into the fractured bone.
In rare cases, vertebroplasty can be used in younger patients whose osteoporosis is caused by long-term steroid treatment or a metabolic disorder. Some patients with vertebral damage due to a malignant tumor may also benefit from vertebroplasty.
Typically, vertebroplasty is recommended after simpler treatments (bed rest, a back brace or pain medication) have been ineffective or once medications have begun to cause other problems, such as stomach ulcers. Vertebroplasty can be performed right away in patients who have severe pain requiring hospitalization or conditions limiting bed rest and medications.
Last Updated: 7/8/2009