Fixing Spinal Fractures Without Surgery

September 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imagine constant pain so severe it changes your life. That's what many people who have fractured vertebrae live with every day. From car wrecks to osteoporosis to cancer, the fractures can be caused by many things, but there wasn't much out there to help people. Doctors now have a way to fill their patients' pain relief needs.

Running, fishing, raising horses... nothing could stop Mary Ann Weyer, foster mom of six. "I didn't have any worries about health," she told Ivanhoe. Then one day, everything changed.

"It happened so fast. Bing. Bing. Bing. One day I was healthy, the next I was in the hospital, the next day I had broken bones."

Within six months, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer where plasma cells in the blood grow rapidly and cause bone destruction. Radiation sent her cancer into remission, but she was left with six spinal fractures.

"I had no idea what people went through when they had pain, until it happened to me. For me the cancer wasn't scary. It was the idea of not being able to take care of myself and being incapacitated," she said.

Interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Marcel Maya at Cedars Sinai uses balloon kyphoplasty to fix the problem. "This is an internal cast, where we put cement inside the fractured spine," Dr. Maya told Ivanhoe.

It's non-surgical, so there are no incisions. Instead, four needles are inserted into Mary Ann's back, creating a small pathway to the fractures. Orthopedic balloons are inserted and inflated. "You can see the balloon getting thicker," he said. Then, the cement fills the opened area. "You see the cement filling the spine and restoring the normal height and strength."

Two hours after the procedure, Mary Ann's on her way home, scar free, pain free and ready to live again. "To not have pain, is to have life," Mary Ann said.

Besides this treatment there is little help for people with spinal fractures. They are basically told to go home and rest. Recovery can take one to three months. With balloon kyphoplasty, recovery is usually less than ten days.

BACKGROUND
Multiple myeloma is cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue found inside most bones. It helps make blood cells. Plasma cells help your body fight infection by producing proteins called antibodies. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in the areas of solid bone. The growth of these bone tumors makes it harder for the bone marrow to make healthy blood cells and platelets.

SYMPTOMS
Multiple myeloma causes a low red blood cell count. This makes you more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or weakness of the arms or legs. Other symptoms include bleeding problems, brittle bones that are more likely to break, fatigue due to anemia, fevers without any other cause, and shortness of breath due to anemia. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

TREATMENT
If you have multiple myeloma and aren't experiencing any symptoms, you may not need treatment. However, your doctor will regularly monitor your condition for signs the disease is progressing. If it is, you may need treatment. ( Source: The MayoClinic)

NEW TECHNOLOGY
Balloon Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that can repair spinal fractures. It takes about an hour per fracture level to treat a fracture with Balloon Kyphoplasty, and the procedure can be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Balloon Kyphoplasty can reduce or eliminate your back pain from a spinal fracture, as well as restore vertebral body height and proper alignment of your spine. Early and effective treatment (fixing the broken bone) may reduce the consequences of spinal fractures, especially those associated with other treatments, for example, prolonged bed rest or use of analgesics. Other benefits include sustained improvement in mobility, improvement in ability to perform activities of daily living, and improved quality of life. Although the complication rate with Baloon Kyphoplasty have been demonstrated to be low, as with most surgical procedures there are risks associated with the procedure, including serious complications. (Source: www.medtronic.com)

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More information:
Becky Allegretto
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center
(310) 423-8694


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