What is kyphoplasty?

Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive surgery that is used to treat compression fractures incurred as a result of suffering from osteoporosis, arthritis, or cancer.  A compression fracture occurs when the vertebrae crack and then push together. Patients with compression fractures suffer from acute pain, lose height, and may become hump-backed. 

Kyphoplasty can provide pain relief, restore height, and fix any other deformities caused by the compression fracture.  According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, kyphoplasty effectively restores height and relieves pain in 95 percent of patients who undergo the procedure.

Even though kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive surgery, it is not always the most appropriate or even desirable operation.  Surgeons cannot perform kyphoplasties on patients who have genetic or permanent spinal deformities.  The surgery is also not recommended for patients who suffered the fracture that is to be treated more than 8 to 12 weeks before the surgery.  The operation is most effective for pain relief and height restoration if it is performed soon after the fracture occurs.

What happens during the surgery?

Kyphoplasty can be performed on more than one vertebrae during a particular surgery.  The surgical procedure generally lasts one hour for each repaired vertebrae.  Patients can often choose to have the surgery performed under general or local anesthesia.

During the surgery, the surgeon will cut a one-half inch incision into the patient’s back.  The surgeon will then use a fluoroscope (a real-time x-ray that shows moving images) to thread a small tube through the incision and into the spinal column.  This tube creates a small tunnel called a working channel in the fractured vertebrae.  When the tube is inside the fractured vertebrae, the surgeon places a balloon through the tube and inflates it.  The balloon moves the vertebrae to its correct place, and recreates the space that was originally within the vertebrae.  The surgeon removes the balloon and fills the newly created space with polymethylmethacrylate, a cement-like substance that will hold the vertebrae in place and prevent the patient from re-developing a hump-back appearance or lose height.  After the space is filled, the surgeon closes the incision. 

What is recovery like after kyphoplasty surgery?

Many patients will return home the same day of the surgery after a four- to six-hour recovery and monitoring period.  Some patients who may have more complicated health problems may remain overnight to ensure appropriate recovery from the anesthesia.  The post-surgical recovery period is also fairly short.  The minimally invasive nature of the surgery leads to fewer infections and a shorter healing time for the incision.  Patients can often return to normal, daily activities within a few days after the surgery.  Patients should not, however, lift heavy objects for up to six weeks after the surgery.  Driving may also present patients with a problem in the weeks after the surgery.  The patient’s surgeon and general physician will be able to consult with the patient to determine when the patient will be able to return to activities like driving, lifting, and strenuous exercise.

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