Osteoporosis and the gradual thinning of the bones is a natural part of aging. Unfortunately, as the bones thin they also flatten, and the spine can start to develop a forward slump that puts increased pressure on weakening vertebrae. If there’s too much pressure — maybe from a fall — the result can be a vertebral compression fracture. For those with advanced osteoporosis even a simple act like lifting or sneezing can cause injury.
In fact, compression fractures in the spine are the most common fracture linked to osteoporosis according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. These fractures will usually heal on their own, but occasionally people feel a lot of pain that can affect their quality of life.
“Compression fractures are often located at about the waist and make bending forward very painful,” said Wael Ghacham, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Samaritan’s Brain & Spine Center, who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery. “When you are trying to heal you should be limiting that bending and reaching movement, and it makes you realize how much you use your spine. Daily living tasks can be extremely difficult without a full range of motion.”
A minimally invasive procedure called balloon kyphoplasty can help.
During the procedure, a small balloon is inserted into the compressed vertebra and filled with air to create space so the vertebra is similar in size to before the injury. The balloon is removed and the space is filled with a quick‑drying bone cement to support the spine and stabilize the vertebra.
The surgery uses needles; no incisions are made and no stitches are needed afterward. This technique means that recovery time is short and most patients can resume normal activities within 48 hours.
The procedure works best on compression fractures that are less than eight weeks old and affect just one vertebra.
“Back pain can have a variety of causes as we age,” said Dr. Ghacham. “If you notice new pain, especially after an event like a fall, talk to your doctor soon to discuss your options.”
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Ghacham, call Samaritan Medical Group Brain & Spine Center – Corvallis at 541‑768‑4501.