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For those who suffer painful spinal fractures, balloon kyphoplasty may provide welcome relief

vertebral compression fractures due to Osteoporosis

Dawn, 58, enjoys walking on the beach and looking for seashells in her oceanfront community. It's a relaxing way to spend her precious free time between working two jobs — as a nurse at a skilled care nursing home and as a home health care provider.


One day recently, the physical demands of Dawn’s work caught up with her.

"I was moving a tub, and I was bent down pulling the tub backwards. I'm not sure what was in it, but it was heavy. And something on the floor caused me to fall. I fell from no higher than knee high."

Dawn knew instantly that something was wrong when she felt a pop in her back. "It was loud, and the pain was horrible."

She left work and went home, but after two days of intense pain that wouldn't let up, Dawn went to the emergency room. There, she had an X-ray and found she had suffered a compression fracture of her L2 vertebra.

“Being off work wasn’t really an option for me,” said Dawn, who lives alone and has chronic diabetes.

She was also concerned about taking opioid medications like Percocet, which she had been prescribed at the emergency room.

“I didn’t want to be dependent on them. I don’t like the way they make you feel anyway.”

Emergency room physicians referred Dawn to a spine surgeon. After determining that Dawn’s spinal fracture was caused by osteoporosis, her surgeon performed a minimally invasive surgical procedure called balloon kyphoplasty that uses balloons and cement in an innovative technique that has been shown to bring many patients rapid pain relief after just one hour.

Balloon kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure for the treatment of pathological fractures of the vertebral body due to osteoporosis, cancer, or benign lesion.

With her pain having gone away and her activity level improved after her balloon kyphoplasty, Dawn has begun seeing an endocrinologist to manage her osteoporosis with calcium therapy and bisphosphonate medications.


What causes spinal fractures?

Most are caused by osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and break easily. Certain types of cancer or tumors also can cause spinal fractures.

How common are spinal fractures?

Worldwide, one in three women and one in eight men over age 50 are affected by osteoporosis, a common cause of vertebral compression fractures (VCFs).1 Many VCFs go undiagnosed and untreated — often because people consider back pain a normal part of aging and don’t mention it to their doctors. But if you leave it untreated, you could be at risk for more injury and even death.2-6

What are the typical symptoms of a spinal fracture?

A spinal fracture may cause mild to severe back pain and can occur after simple daily activities such as sneezing or lifting a light object. You may have a vertebral compression fracture if you:

  • Have sudden onset of severe, sharp back pain that lasts longer than 3 days AND
  • Are over 50 OR
  • Have been told you have osteoporosis or low bone density.

How are spinal fractures diagnosed?

Your doctor may press on your back to locate the source of your pain. You’ll have images like an x-ray or MRI scan taken of your spine to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the benefits of Kyphon Balloon Kyphoplasty (BKP)?

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Compared to non-surgical treatment like a back brace or oral medication, clinical studies have shown that people with spinal fractures treated with BKP experienced several benefits1, 7-9:

  • Less back pain
  • More quality of life
  • Better mobility
  • Less time on bed rest and fewer days when pain interferes with daily activities
  • Satisfaction with the procedure

How does balloon kyphoplasty work?

Your doctor will decide if local or general anesthesia is the right option for your procedure.

  • One or two small incisions are made, about 1 cm long.
  • A small pathway is made into the fractured bone, and an orthopedic balloon is inserted.
  • The balloon is carefully inflated to raise the collapsed vertebra.
  • The balloon is then deflated and removed, creating a cavity, or space, within the vertebral body.
  • The cavity is filled with a special cement to support the surrounding bone and prevent further collapse. You can think of it as an internal cast.
  • Generally, the procedure is done on both sides of the vertebra.

What are the risks of balloon kyphoplasty?

Although the complication rate for Kyphon Balloon Kyphoplasty is low, as with most surgical procedures, serious adverse events, some of which can be fatal, can occur, including heart attack, cardiac arrest (heart stops beating), stroke, and embolism (blood, fat, or cement that migrates to the lungs or heart). Other risks include infection; leakage of bone cement into the muscle and tissue surrounding the spinal cord and nerve injury that can, in rare instances, cause paralysis; leakage of bone cement into the blood vessels resulting in damage to the blood vessels, lungs, and/or heart. Talk to your doctor about both benefits and risks of this procedure.

Is Kyphon Balloon Kyphoplasty covered by insurance?

In most cases, BKP is covered by Medicare and private insurance carriers. If you have questions regarding your policy or coverage, contact your insurance carrier.

Who performs Kyphon Balloon Kyphoplasty?

Specialists trained to perform the BKP procedure include some orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, interventional radiologists, and pain medicine doctors. If you think you have a spinal fracture, you may need to see your primary care doctor for a diagnosis, and if necessary, get a referral to a specialist for treatment with balloon kyphoplasty.

For more information please consult your healthcare provider. Click the link below to locate a spinal fracture specialist in your area.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.


1. Lau E, Ong K, Kurtz S, et al. Mortality following the diagnosis of a vertebral compression fracture in the Medicare population. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2008 Jul;90(7):1479-1486. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.G.00675.

2. Brunton S, Carmichael B, Gold D, et al. Vertebral compression fractures in primary care: recommendations from a consensus panel. J Fam Pract. 2005;54(9):781-788.

3. Vedantam R. Management of osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures: a review. Am J Clin Med. 2009;6(4):14-18.

4. Ross PD. Clinical consequences of vertebral fractures. Am J Med. 1997;103(2A):30S-43S.

5. Gold DT. The clinical impact of vertebral fractures: quality of life in women with osteoporosis. Bone. 1996;18(3 Suppl):185S- 189S. Review. (Historical information on epidemiology of spinal osteoporosis and QOL. Medtronic comment, March 2013).

6. Silverman SL. The clinical consequences of vertebral compression fracture. Bone. 1992;13 Suppl 2:S27-S31. (Historical disease state information on vertebral compression fractures. Medtronic comment, March 2013).

7. Wardlaw D, Cummings SR, Van Meirhaeghe J, et al. Efficacy and safety of balloon kyphoplasty compared with non-surgical care for vertebral compression fracture (FREE): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2009;373(9668):1016-1024.

8. Boonen S, Van Meirhaeghe J, Bastian L, et al. Balloon kyphoplasty for the treatment of acute vertebral compression fractures: 2-year results from a randomized trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2011;26(7):1627-1637.

9. Van Meirhaeghe J, Bastian L, Boonen S, et al. A randomized trial of balloon kyphoplasty and nonsurgical management for treating acute vertebral compression fractures: vertebral body kyphosis correction and surgical parameters. Spine. 2013;38(12),971-983.