Kyphoplasty is a relatively common procedure that spinal surgeons use to treat compression fractures or breaks in a vertebra. Spinal fractures or breaks are relatively common in older patients, as your bones become more vulnerable with age, especially where there is an underlying condition like osteoporosis. Find out what you need to do to recover fully from kyphoplasty, and learn more about the potential risks and complications that can arise from this surgery.
How kyphoplasty works
Compared to other forms of spinal surgery, a kyphoplasty procedure is relatively non-invasive. As such, this procedure is generally suitable for older patients who may struggle to recover fully from more invasive surgery.
Kyphoplasty is similar to another procedure called vertebroplasty. With both treatment methods, a doctor injects a special cement mixture into the damaged vertebra, helping the bone grow stronger. Kyphoplasty differs from vertebroplasty because the doctor first uses a special balloon-like device to create space. This extra step can have added benefits. For example, the process may restore a vertebra's height, giving the patient more freedom of movement and less pain.
Patients rarely need to attend hospital to undergo kyphoplasty. You'll lie down on your stomach during the procedure, while the doctor inserts a special needle into your skin. Using a special type of X-ray, the doctor will then guide the needle through the muscle into the relevant bone. He or she will then insert and inflate the balloon through the needle, before injecting the cement mixture.
After the procedure
For a single vertebra, kyphoplasty normally takes less than an hour. You won't need stitches (there is no open wound), but the doctor will bandage the area to keep the insertion point clean and sterile.
You will stay in the recovery room for a short period, so the doctor can make sure you recover from the anesthetic. Your doctor will probably ask you to get up and walk around after an hour, and you should expect the area to feel sore. Patients normally go home later that day, unless your doctor treats multiple vertebrae or there are signs of any complication, but you cannot drive your own car for around 24 hours.
During the recovery period
Kyphoplasty will limit your mobility for some time, and it's important to talk to your doctor about any activities you should avoid. If you live at home alone, it's often a good idea to arrange a family member to come and stay with you for a few weeks. At the very least, make sure you have regular visitors to help you with any difficult tasks.
Your doctor will probably prescribe narcotic pain medication for you to use after the procedure. Narcotics can cause constipation, so you should drink plenty of water and eat high fiber foods to counter this effect. Your doctor will also discuss an exercise program to include gentle stretching and strengthening. If necessary, your doctor can help you find a physical therapist to come to your home to help with these exercises.
The recovery period for kyphoplasty varies between patients, but the procedure is generally successful. Studies show that around 90 percent of patients with osteoporosis experience significant pain relief two weeks after they undergo kyphoplasty. Other benefits include better spinal alignment and restoration of vertebral height.
Kyphoplasty is generally a safe procedure, and complications are rare in patients with compression fractures.
Some patients experience bleeding or wound infection. You should take regular showers to keep the wound clean, but avoid soaking in a tub bath for the first couple of weeks. Talk to your doctor about any help you may need at home while you recover.
One study showed that a more common complication of the surgery is cement leakage. This complication can result in painful symptoms, although patients with cement leakage generally still experience significant improvements in their symptoms. In the most serious cases, further treatment may become necessary to get rid of the leakage.
Kyphoplasty patients may also experience pulmonary embolism. Seniors are often at higher risk of this serious condition because they are less mobile than their younger counterparts. As such, your doctor may suggest extra tests after the procedure to check for any signs of an embolism, especially if you have a history of this sort of problem.
Kyphoplasty is a non-invasive procedure that can help ease pain and mobility problems resulting from a compression fracture. Most people recover quickly from the procedure, but seniors should take extra steps to avoid the complications that may arise from this surgery.