Treatment Related Health Concerns

A single fracture can generate significant pain and has the potential to shorten a patient’s spine, pushing it forward until it adversely affects the overall spine alignment (kyphosis). Each additional fracture can further increase spinal deformity and generate additional pain.1-3 A change in spinal alignment can compress internal organs and have a negative impact on the patient’s breathing, eating, and digestion. The pain generated from movement of the fracture causes patients to limit their mobility and lead a more sedentary lifestyle. This domino effect can further compound matters by continuing to cause medical problems seemingly unrelated to the spine:

  • Reduced mobility, loss of balance, and increased risk of falls4,5
  • Reduced lung function6,7
  • Reduced ability to take care of one’s self, perform usual work, or retirement activities8-10
  • Fewer active days and more days in bed8,11,12
  • Decreased appetite and sleep disorders13
  • Chronic back pain and fatigue12,14
  • Decreased quality of life3,15
  • Feelings of isolation and sadness16
  • Increased risk for future fracture1,15,17,18
  • Increased risk of death17,19

The importance to establish key treatment criteria in minimally invasive spine fracture therapies based per the following clinical studies.

In August 2009, the results of two clinical studies evaluated the benefits of vertebroplasty in patients with osteoporotic compression fractures and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). See Table A. The similar conclusions reached by the studies sparked both confusion and controversy.

Table A

Study Authors Conclusion
A Randomized Trial of Verte-broplasty for Osteoporotic Spinal Fractures20 David F. Kallmes, et al. Improvements in pain in patients treated with vertebroplasty were similar to the improvements in the sham procedure control group
A Randomized Trial of Vertebroplasty for Painful Osteoporotic Vertebral Fractures21 Rachelle Buchbinder, et al. No beneficial effect of vertebroplasty as compared with a sham procedure

The referral community suddenly called into question the clinical efficacy of not only vertebroplasty, but all minimally invasive vertebral compression fracture (VCF) procedures including vertebral augmentation. The medical community who performed these minimally invasive procedures and many professional societies agreed that these studies included inappropriate patient populations, and were not adequately powered to make such broad conclusions regading procedural efficacy.  Additionally, these studies compared vertebroplasty to an active sham procedure (Sham surgery (also called placebo surgery) is a simulated surgical intervention that omits the therapeutic treatment) and not the conventional conservative medical therapy.  These two study results ultimately contradicted 20 years of positive clinical data resulting from minimally invasive procedures in patients with painful vertebral compression fractures. 22-24

Significant among vertebral compression fracture studies that reported statistically significant clinical results of these minimally invasive procedures, both pre and post the NEJM articles, were those conducted by Wardlaw et al. (2009) and Klazen et al. (2010), which evaluated vertebral augmentation and vertebroplasty respectively. See Table B. Both studies enrolled significantly larger numbers of patients, as study subjects, and reported longer follow-up (1 year) than those reported in NEJM and shared none of the concerns associated with the Kallmes and Buchbinder studies.

Table B

Study Authors Conclusion
Efficacy and safety of balloon kyphoplasty compared with non-surgical care for vertebral compression fracture (FREE): a randomised controlled trial25 Douglas Wardlaw, et al Vertebral augmentation in acute fractures resulted in greater pain relief than conservative (non-surgical) care
Vertebroplasty versus conservative treatment in acute osteoporotic vertebral compression fracture (Vertos II): an open-label randomised trial26 Caroline A. H. Klazen et al Vertebroplasty in acute fractures resulted in greater pain relief improvement than conservative treatment

Key criteria for achieving back pain relief

Noteworthy among research statistics was that all four studies touched on similar key criteria: patient selection, age of fracture, and time to treatment. Specifically, it was shown in the Wardlaw and Klazen studies that a more accurate diagnosis of painful vertebral compression fractures that included concordant imaging and physical examination results, the mean fracture age less than 12 weeks, and how soon after fracture patients were treated, had a significant positive impact on the reduction of back pain in patients who underwent vertebral augmentation and vertebroplasty.


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an asterisk (*) denotes that some/all of the authors are paid Kyphon consultants. A cross (†) indicates that research cited may have been funded partially, or in whole, by Kyphon Inc.