CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — A vertebral compression fracture – more commonly known as a broken back – may lead to debilitating pain and spinal deformity along with other life-threatening health complications, particularly for older adults.
Dr. Rick W. Obray, a pain specialist and founding partner at Southwest Spine & Pain Center, told St. George News there is a minimally invasive surgical option that can eliminate pain and restore mobility for patients suffering from vertebral compression fractures.
Kyphoplasty involves inserting and gently inflating a small balloon inside damaged vertebrae to deliver a cement-like substance that sets the fracture. The intent is to reduce pain and restore bone height while reducing the risk of spinal deformity and other complications by allowing the soft inner bone of the vertebral body to strengthen and heal.
Obray said that vertebral compression fractures are very common, with over 600,000 reported in the United States each year. Most occur in older adults due to osteoporosis and/or trauma caused by falls.
Vertebral compression fractures are among the most painful and debilitating conditions treated by the specialists at Southwest Spine & Pain, Obray said. Patients struggle to stand, walk and participate in everyday activities. Even rolling over in bed may be excruciating.
“The pain is so severe that they tend not to move, and that becomes the problem,” he said. “For every week they stay in bed, they lose muscle mass, and their bones get weaker. Once you’re over 65, it’s hard to get that back.”
Without treatment, a vertebral compression fracture can cause the spine to collapse and permanently lose height, placing pressure on the lungs and other organs. Immobility as a result of the pain also leads to health risks such as deep venous thrombosis – of DVT – or pulmonary emboli that may cause premature death.
Obray said that the introduction of kyphoplasty and a similar procedure called vertebroplasty approximately 15 years ago marked a significant advancement in spine care. He cited a study indicating that treating vertebral compression fractures quickly and effectively decreases the patient mortality rate by 17%. Medicare currently covers kyphoplasty for most patients.
“Literally, this treatment can save patients’ lives,” he said.
While studying at Johns Hopkins University, Obray had the opportunity to witness one of the first vertebroplasties performed in the country on a female patient who was confined to a wheelchair after sustaining a vertebral compression fracture. She suffered from severe and constant pain and could barely move.
“It was incredibly painful just to get her on the procedure table,” he said. “They treated the fracture, and she literally walked out of the hospital within several hours of having the procedure done.”
Obray said that many kyphoplasty patients experience significant pain relief immediately following the procedure. They can resume their normal routine while the fracture safely heals over the next several weeks, supported by the bone cement “cast.”
Some patients may need secondary treatment to address the strain placed on muscles and joints by the loss of height due to spinal compression, but Obray said that if the fracture is treated soon enough, that can often be avoided.
Time is of the essence when responding to a vertebral compression fracture. If a patient reaches out to Southwest Spine & Pain suspecting they have suffered a fracture, Obray said that they can typically be seen on the same day. Specialists will order imaging to confirm the source of the pain and prescribe medications and bracing to help keep the patient comfortable until they undergo kyphoplasty. The clinic also treats osteoporosis to help reduce the risk of future fractures.
Southwest Spine & Pain operates 15 health centers throughout Utah, serving patients from St. George to Logan. Their double board-certified pain management specialists have trained with the best at Johns Hopkins, Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, among others, to provide comprehensive treatment options for acute and chronic pain.
“But more than training, we have a commitment to compassionate care,” Obray said. “Well-trained physicians who really care about their patients – that’s what we try to be and what we try to attract.”
Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.
• S P O N S O R E D C O N T E N T •
- Southwest Spine & Pain Center | Address: 652 S. Medical Center Drive, Suite 110 | Telephone 435-656-2424 | Website.
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