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Kyphoplasty: Definition, Procedure & Recovery

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson gives you an overview of kyphoplasty. You'll learn what this is, why and how it's performed, and what to expect right after the procedure.

Kyphoplasty Defined

Let's do a crude but helpful thought exercise. Imagine a closed cardboard box. Smash it with your foot. In doing so you've compressed or collapsed the cardboard box and created breaks (fractures) in it along the way.

If this kind of collapse were to happen to a bone of your spinal column, called a vertebra, then this would be called a spinal or vertebral compression fracture. A kyphoplasty is a surgical procedure that seeks to correct this.

Keep this thought exercise in mind as we learn more about this procedure in this lesson.

Causes and Word Origins

Vertebral compression fractures can occur as a result of things like trauma, cancer, and osteoporosis. The latter is a condition where your body doesn't make enough new bone, loses too much bone, or both.

If one or more vertebrae collapse for any reason, then that can cause a person pain and a change in their posture. The change in posture may potentially cause a hunchback appearance where the person's back has a hump. 'Hump' has a Greek prefix of 'kypho-'. Thus, a condition where a person has a hunched back is called kyphosis. One treatment that seeks to remediate the vertebrae involved in the kyphosis is called a kyphoplasty.

The suffix of '-plasty' refers to the plastic repair of something. Not that plastic itself is necessarily used, but that something is being repaired, reshaped, or molded somehow. It does not imply how or what material it's being molded with.

Kyphoplasty Goals

That being said, this procedure does indeed use a specific kind of plastic called polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Somewhat confusingly, PMMA's more common name is 'bone cement' even though it's not a cement like the one cars drive on.

The goals of kyphoplasty are to:

  1. Restore the vertebra's height back to normal. Remember, it has been crushed somewhat like a box.
  2. Stabilize the vertebra so that it doesn't collapse back down after the procedure.
  3. Relieve a person's pain and, if present, kyphosis.

Procedure

Mrs. Jones is undergoing kyphoplasty. She has received medication so she can relax and not feel any pain. Sometimes the patient is put to sleep as well. Mrs. Jones lies on a table, face down, during the kyphoplasty.

The skin over the vertebra in question will be cleaned and numbed. Using real-time X-ray imagery to guide the procedure, a doctor will place a needle into the vertebra. A balloon will be placed through the needle and inflated inside the vertebra.

What would happen if you placed a balloon into a crushed box and inflated it? It would pop back into shape, right? Well, the balloon does the same thing to the vertebra. It restores most, if not all, the vertebra's height.

But this isn't enough. As you can imagine, if you deflated the balloon, then the box, with time, could collapse back down. Something must be done to maintain the shape of the damaged box for the long term. Perhaps you could put something inside it to hold the newly restored shape?

X-ray of vertebra with bone cement injected
kyphoplasty

Similarly, inflating the vertebra back into shape and leaving it be isn't enough. Once the balloon is inflated within the vertebra, it leaves behind a cavity (like the empty space within a box). The doctor then injects bone cement into this cavity in order to prevent Mrs. Jones's vertebra from collapsing back down.

Recovery

Once the procedure is over, the patient will spend some time in a recovery room. Some people will be allowed to go home the same day, while others will be asked to stay overnight so they can be watched for signs of any problems.

Unless the doctor says otherwise, someone should drive the patient back home. While some people may be able to walk as soon as 1 hour after the procedure, they may be told to stay in bed for the first 24 hours unless they need to go to the bathroom.

Soreness in the area of the procedure is expected but it shouldn't last more than a few days. If necessary, ice may be applied to the area.

Each patient will differ in how quickly they recover and when they should resume activities. Thus, talk to your doctor to find out more. Generally, 24 hours after the procedure a person can gradually return to normal activities. However, heavy lifting and strenuous exercise should be avoided for at least a month and a half.

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