Release Date: 11/11/2010
Balloon Kyphoplasty repairs painful vertebral fractures – in less than one hour
Balloon Kyphoplasty patient Eugene Anacker, left, shares a lighthearted moment with Walt Emerson, radiological technologist and manager of Interventional Radiology at St. Anthony's Heart and Vascular Institute.
Eugene Anacker, 79, was taking a shower at his south St. Louis home, when he started feeling dizzy. It was his second dizzy spell that week; but this time he passed out and hit the floor – fracturing a lumbar vertabra in the process. His wife, Beverly, called an ambulance to transport him to St. Anthony’s Medical Center.
“I never had anything hurt worse in my life,” Anacker said. “The pain was excruciating.”
The following day, Robert Al-Aly, M.D., an interventional radiologist at St. Anthony’s, performed a Balloon Kyphoplasty on Anacker’s vertebra. As soon as he awakened from the 45-minute procedure, Anacker described his pain level as “going from a ‘9’ to a ‘3’ – truthfully, I think I’ve had a tooth pulled that hurt worse,” he said.
Balloon Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive spinal surgery procedure used to treat painful, progressive vertebral compression fractures – a fracture in the body of a vertebra that causes it to collapse. This causes the spinal column above it to develop an abnormal forward curve. Left alone, the fracture heals in a permanently deformed state, decreasing mobility, limiting activities and increasing the risk of future fractures.
Kyphoplasty, an outpatient procedure, is designed to help correct the spinal deformity caused by the fracture, significantly reduce pain and enable the patient to stay strong, mobile and independent.
“The best results are achieved when the fracture is diagnosed and treated as early as possible,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “Many patients have osteoporosis, some have experienced falls, some have had back pain for weeks. We can perform as many Kyphoplasty procedures as necessary throughout the spinal column, and the reinforced bone does not deteriorate over time. A few years ago, I performed the procedure on five vertebrae of a policeman with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer). It is good for people who don’t want to give up their activities – it gives them freedom again.”
Dr. Al-Aly explained how the procedure is performed. The physician makes two small (one-centimeter) incisions in the patient’s back and inserts two tubes to the site of the fractured bone. A balloon tamp is inserted through each tube and inflated, helping to push the bone back to its normal height and shape. The physician then withdraws the balloons and fills the resulting cavity with bone cement, forming an internal cast.
When the cement hardens, in about 10 minutes, the tubes are removed. In most cases, there is no need to suture; a simple dressing is applied to the incisions. The patient generally goes home the same day and can resume normal activities without restrictions.
“Ninety-nine percent of patients say, ‘My pain is gone!’ while they’re still on the table,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “Problems with this procedure are very rare, and 90 to 95 percent of patients come out completely pain-free.”
While some physicians might initially treat the patient with painkilling medications; they often provide only limited relief and may cause other problems, particularly among older patients, Dr. Al-Aly said. “Narcotic drugs can cause the patient to become weak, dizzy and disoriented,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “They also may cause nausea and constipation, particularly among the elderly population. Some patients may be unable to tolerate the drugs because of other medications they are taking. Kyphoplasty eliminates the need for painkilling medications.”
Walt Emerson, radiological technologist and manager of Interventional Radiology at St. Anthony’s Heart and Vascular Institute, said, “I’ve seen patients come in for a Kyphoplasty, who had been dealing with pain for weeks, walk out after a few hours, pain-free. I’ve seen such positive results from the use of this procedure that I’d like to educate everyone – it is phenomenal.”
Anacker, retired since 1991 after 40 years with the U.S. Air Force, said he had never heard of Balloon Kyphoplasty before, but would recommend it to anyone with a vertebral fracture. “If anyone has a question about whether or not to do it – do it,” he said.
Learn more information about St. Anthony’s Heart and Vascular Institute or to contact Dr. Al-Aly or other St. Anthony’s physicians, or call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669).
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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