When you think of women’s health issues, spinal fractures probably don’t come to mind. But they should. These common fractures can not only be disfiguring, but deadly.
Spinal fractures are the most common osteoporotic fracture; over 900,000 spinal fractures occur every year in the United States alone, according to industry estimates and research. They occur more often than hip fractures in any one year. They also increase the risk of death. Unlike a hip fracture, the risk of death following a spinal fracture continues to increase progressively, so it is important to treat spinal fractures soon after they occur. Sadly, only about one third of these fractures ever receive medical attention.
The main cause of spinal fractures is osteoporosis, which silently robs you of the density in your vertebrae – bones we often take for granted. Think of the vertebrae in your spine as a stack of square building blocks with mesh interiors. Osteoporosis causes the mesh architecture inside the blocks to deteriorate, eventually causing micro-fractures. As micro-fractures accumulate, the blocks become weaker and less able to resist the stresses we expect them to handle.
Many times, what seems like very minor stress can cause fractures and the vertebrae to collapse, which causes the vertebrae to become compressed. You may notice you are getting shorter, and gradually you will notice a curving forward of your spine. This is called kyphosis.
Besides loss of height, some other changes occurring in your body might be due to spinal fractures. Do your clothes not quite fit right? Are you developing a “tummy” that you never had? Do you eat less because you get full so fast? Are you short of breath from small exertions?
With spinal fractures, what was once a nice sturdy compartment for your internal organs gradually becomes smaller and smaller, compressing your stomach, lungs and digestive tract. The compression keeps your lungs from expanding fully, makes your heart work harder and your entire digestive track is pushed forward between your ribs and hips.
Spinal fractures can occur spontaneously or from the minimal stress of day-to-day activities. Sometimes there is no pain and the fracture goes unnoticed, but sometimes there is extreme pain.
For Marian Williams, 80, of Salem, VA, it was both spontaneous and very painful. As she was walking down the stairs in her home, “It felt like something slipped in my back. It started hurting right away, and the pain quickly became unbearable. I couldn’t do anything. Even when I was lying down or sitting down, it hurt,” she said. “It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. I never had pain like that before. It was excruciating.”
Marian was admitted to the hospital and referred to Dr. Van Lewis, a neuroradiologist in nearby Roanoke, who recommended a minimally invasive surgery known as KYPHON (R) Balloon Kyphoplasty. During this procedure, two tiny incisions are made in the back and balloons are inserted through small tubes into the fractured bone. The balloons are then carefully inflated in an attempt to raise the collapsed bone. The balloons are then removed, creating cavities in the bone that are filled with bone cement. A clinical study has shown that those who undergo this procedure experience improved quality of life, faster back pain relief and quicker return of physical function than patients who opt for non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy or pain medication. The benefits were sustained on average throughout 12 months. While spinal fractures may be associated with mortality, no data exists currently to show that KYPHON Balloon Kyphoplasty improves the mortality rate.
The complication rate with KYPHON Balloon Kyphoplasty has been demonstrated to be low. There are risks associated with the procedure (e.g., cement leakage), including serious complications, and though rare, some of which may be fatal. This procedure is not for everyone. A prescription is required. Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, contraindications, benefits, and risks. Only you and your physician can determine whether this procedure is right for you.
Three days after being admitted to the hospital, Marian was treated with balloon kyphoplasty. “When I woke up from the surgery, they took me back to my room and told me to lie flat for two hours … the excruciating pain was gone,” Marian said.
Marian no longer has excruciating back pain and is back to her regular activities, which include lifting light weights, using the weight machines and taking low-impact aerobic classes at her gym three times a week.
For a free, informational packet on KYPHON Balloon Kyphoplasty, potential patients and physicians can call (800) 677-7172. More information about spinal fractures can be found on the Internet at www.spinalfracture.com or www.kyphon.com or by writing to Medtronic, Inc., 1221 Crossman Ave., Sunnyvale, CA, 94089.
KYPHON Balloon Kyphoplasty incorporates technology developed by Dr. Gary K. Michelson.