Repairing Spinal Fractures

October 26, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of the effects of menopause could literally, be back breaking for some women. It's the calcium, not the taste Nora Ripper craves. At age 83, her bones are soft and very weak.

She discovered how weak when she slipped on a rock and fell on the street. "I felt like my lower back and my waistline in back is going to break in half," says Ripper.

It didn't take long for Doctor Marcel Maya to find the problem. That's a fractured vertebra of the spine -- a common result of osteoporosis.

Until recently, patients suffered on bed rest for sometimes months, until the break healed.

Nora chose a quicker route called vertebroplasty. Under local anesthesia, doctors guide a needle through a small incision in the back. They then inject acrylic bone cement, stabilizing the collapsed vertebrae.

Dr. Maya says, "What that does is form a cast inside the spine so the fracture no longer moves and that prevents pain."

Nora was back shopping two weeks later and is pain-free.

Her internal cast should provide a permanent fix for that bone, but the rest of her spine is still weak, so Nora has to make a few changes of her own, like wearing lower heels and slowing down her pace.

Doctor Maya says the procedure takes about 30 minutes and relieves pain in more than 90 percent of patients.

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