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Vertebroplasty: Complications & Side Effects

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

In this lesson, we are going to look at a relatively new procedure called vertebroplasty that's being performed to repair vertebrae. We'll also focus on the possible side effects and complications of this procedure.

Vertebroplasty

We use our vertebral column, commonly referred to as the backbone, for almost every movement we make. It is needed for sitting, standing, running, walking, bending and even for laying down. The vertebral column is made up of vertebrae, and it functions to protect the spinal cord. The vertebrae are the small, irregularly shaped bones that have a large hole in their middle for the spinal cord to pass through. The bones also have smaller holes on the side for nerves to branch out.

Considering how much we use our vertebral column, it's no wonder that we know rather quickly when something is wrong with one or more of our vertebrae. It can be summed up into one word: pain!

In the case of a vertebral fracture--ouch--we're fortunate we don't have to live with that pain. Vertebroplasty is a procedure that can repair the vertebrae. Now, doctors don't fix vertebrae in the usual way, putting the bones close together and letting them fuse and heal on their own. Nope, in a vertebroplasty, the doctor inserts a needle into the fractured vertebrae and deposits cement in the fracture. The cement gives the vertebrae back its normal shape and restores function.

Side Effects

It's unusual to have any type of procedure performed on the body without any possible side effects. Vertebroplasty is no exception. As you can imagine, the needle used for this procedure is rather large so the most common side effect is pain and discomfort where the needle was inserted. Most people are in such pain before the procedure that the minimal amount of pain from the procedure is way less than what they had been experiencing.

Another side effect that you may have probably guessed is that there is the chance for bleeding to occur since it is rather rare that needles do not cause bleeding. In the case of vertebroplasty, we're referring to bleeding inside your back more than that on the outside. This usually occurs in tissues closest to where the needle was inserted. This side effect usually only lasts for up to 5 minutes and is resolved fairly easily.

Your vertebral column surrounds your spinal cord and nerves pass through each vertebrae. For this reason, it is possible that the spinal cord or nerves will be brushed or lightly touched during the procedure. That could cause some tingling and numbness in your body. The feeling will be the same as what you feel when your foot or hand 'goes to sleep'. The other possible side effect involving the spinal cord and nerves is paralysis. The paralysis is usually temporary and the ability to move will return within minutes or hours of the procedure.

Complications

Mild to Moderate

The complications from vertebroplasty do not occur very frequently and may or may not require you to seek more medical attention. Sometimes a patient will experience an increase in back pain after the procedure. Fortunately, this complication usually resolves itself within a matter of 2 to 3 hours.

Anytime something is inserted into the body there's a risk of infection. With a vertebroplasty procedure, the infection usually remains local to needle injection site and/or where the cement was deposited. Complications from infection can include inflammation of the vertebral discs and/or other bones in the body. Antibiotics can take care of this issue.

Another complication is that the injected cement can leak out into the tissues immediately surrounding the target area or onto other vertebrae. If this happens to you, it could or could not be a problem. The leaking might have no effect on the body or it could cause a more serious infection or even cause another vertebrae to break. When this complication does cause a problem, you'll need medical attention to correct the issue.

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