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How will I know if kyphoplasty worked?

Q: Last month, I had a procedure called kyphoplasty. It was for a compression fracture at T10. Tomorrow I go back to the surgeon for a follow-up appointment. How will I know if the operation worked?

A: Compression fractures are the most common type of fracture affecting the spine. A compression fracture of a spine bone (vertebra) causes the bone to collapse in height. Compression fractures are commonly the result of osteoporosis (decreased bone density or "brittle bones").

About 750,000 cases of compression fractures due to osteoporosis occur each year in the United States. Spine bones that are weakened from osteoporosis may become unable to support normal stress and pressure. As a result, something as simple as coughing, twisting, or lifting can cause a vertebra to fracture.

Kyphoplasty to treat the problem involves inserting a deflated balloon into the fractured and collapsed vertebral body. Hydraulic pressure is used to inflate the balloon. The balloon is inflated until the vertebral body height is restored to normal or until the balloon is fully inflated. The balloon is then collapsed and removed. The empty space left by the inflated balloon is quickly filled in with cement that is injected into the area.

The results can be measured and compared before and after treatment using patient perceived level of pain and even the amount of pain medications needed for comfort. X-ray analysis of spinal correction/deformity can be compared from before to after the procedure. There are also ways to measure your activity level, function, and change in disability to demonstrate change from before to after treatment.

Although the surgeon can order X-rays and see what's happening inside the spine, your own satisfaction with the results is the best gauge or measure of outcomes.

Reference: Hyung Taek Park, et al. Results of Kyphoplasty According to the Operative Timing. In Current Orthopaedic Practice. September/October 2010. Vol. 21. No. 5. Pp. 489-493.

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