Vertebroplasty is a surgery that is done to try to relieve pain from compression fractures of the spine by stabilizing the broken bone with a substance that works like cement. The surgery is not done very often, because most fractures heal on their own. Fractures can happen because of osteoporosis, tumors, or other conditions.
How it's done
How is vertebroplasty done?
Your doctor will numb the area and make a small cut in your back. A hollow needle or tube will then be inserted. The doctor guides the needle to the fractured area using fluoroscopy. This is a kind of X-ray.
When the needle is in place, the doctor injects a type of cement into the vertebra. The cement mixture hardens in about half an hour.
Vertebroplasty for Compression Fracture
Courtesy of Intermountain Medical Imaging, Boise, Idaho.
Figure 1 shows a broken (fractured) vertebra from thin, weak bones caused by osteoporosis (compression fracture).
Figure 2 shows a needle inserted into the fractured vertebra.
Figure 3 shows cement injected into the vertebra to give it structural support.
What to expect
How do you prepare for a vertebroplasty procedure?
Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.
Preparing for the procedure
- You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your procedure. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after the procedure.
- Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
- Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
- If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your procedure. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
- Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
- Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.
What happens on the day of your vertebroplasty?
- Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your procedure may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of the procedure, take them with only a sip of water.
- Take a bath or shower before you come in for your procedure. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
- Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.
At the hospital or surgery center
- Bring a picture ID.
- You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
- The procedure will take about an hour.
After vertebroplasty: Overview
After vertebroplasty to relieve pain from compression fractures, you may feel sore where the hollow needle went into your back. The soreness should go away in a few days.
You likely will go home the same day. You may take some pain medicine for a couple of days.
Most people are able to return to their daily activities within a day after the procedure.
How can you care for yourself after vertebroplasty?
- Take it easy for the first 24 hours. Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- For the first day after the procedure, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless your doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
- You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
- If you are sore where the needle was inserted, put ice or a cold pack on your back for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.