Healthwatch

"About 80 percent of the folks that we do this to, it'll get rid of the great majority of their pain."

Dr. Eric Pearson with Rush Hospital's Pain Treatment Center is talking about a procedure known as vertebroplasty. Designed to relief back pain, Dr. Pearson says as part of the procedure a special type of cement is used to repair back fractures.

The spine of the back is made up of many vertebrae. Because the inside of the vertebrae is made up of a soft, 'mushy' type material, Dr. Pearson says the fracture can cause the middle material to collapse or cave-in somewhat on either side. However, the cement can be injected. Once injected the cement fills in gaps caused by the fracture, therefore repairing the vertebrae.

Taking a little over an hour, Dr. Pearson says the procedure is outpatient. Because of the prevalence of brittle bones among the elderly, he says most candidates for the procedure are older. With this in mind, he says it's even more important for someone who suspects that he or she has a back fracture to seek treatment as soon as possible.

"A compression fracture can be so painful that these folks will go to bed and for every week they stay in bed they lose about 10% of their muscle mass. So, if they are marginally functional or marginally independent before, they may lose that independence with time. They may lose that ability to stay in their own home or stay independent."

Because special x-ray equipment is used for the procedure, Dr. Pearson says the injection is very precise and rarely results in complications. Although a few days of minor soreness could follow the procedure, he says it's much better than the alternative, a lifetime of pain!

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