What is Vertebral Augmentation?

The spine is made up of 33 individual bones, stacked one on top of the other. Soft, spongy cushions known as intervertebral discs separate these bones, providing shock absorption and flexibility. The spine provides support for the body, allowing a person to stand upright, and protects the spinal cord, which connects the brain to the rest of the body, allowing for feeling and movement. With the vertebrae making up such an important structure, a fractured vertebra can cause serious problems, as well as cause severe pain.

“Vertebral augmentation” is a blanket term that encompasses a number of surgical procedures that stabilize the fractured vertebra while ideally providing pain relief. Vertebral augmentation is most often performed on patients who have suffered a compression fracture, which is typically caused by a relatively minor trauma in a patient with a degenerative disease such as osteoporosis.

Vertebral augmentations are minimally invasive procedures, often allowing the patient to return home the day of the surgery or the following day. Vertebroplasty, a method of vertebral augmentation, involves the injection of bone cement directly into the fractured vertebra, with the goal of stabilizing the bone and reducing pain. Kyphoplasty includes the same concept, but goes a step further. Kyphoplasty is designed to not only reduce pain and repair the fracture, but to also correct deformity. This deformity is often in the form of kyphosis, an outward curving of the mid-back. Balloon kyphoplasty uses a balloon to create a cavity within the damaged vertebra. The balloon is inserted into the damaged bone, then inflated, pushing the fractured pieces of the bone back to their natural position. The created cavity is then filled with bone cement, effectively casting the vertebra from the inside, allowing the bone to knit back together.

Vertebral augmentations are commonly performed procedures, and are lower-risk than more invasive procedures. There is a high success rate within this category of procedure. However, no procedure is without risk, so it is crucial to discuss any of the risk/reward ratio of this procedure with your surgeon. Other, more conventional methods will likely be tried to achieve the same results before vertebral augmentation is even considered an option. At this point in time, many insurance companies regard vertebral augmentation as elective surgeries, making communication with your insurance provider critical.


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