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Kyphoplasty Risks

Do They Outweigh the Benefits?

Question: I've heard so many good things about balloon kyphoplasty. But what are the chances that kyphoplasty may do more harm than good? Is there an upper limit in age beyond which it is not best to have kyphoplasty?
— Nashua, NH

Answer: This is a commonly asked and pertinent question! Yes, balloon kyphoplasty has proven to be an effective treatment for osteoporosis-related spinal compression fractures (which your doctor may also call vertebral compression fractures or VCFs). Before addressing the benefits and drawbacks, I would first recommend that you learn all you can about this procedure. Fortunately, SpineUniverse has a wealth of information on kyphoplasty. Here are some great resources to get you started:

There are many benefits to kyphoplasty and few risks. Since you're most interested in the potential drawbacks of kyphoplasty, I'll address those first.

Less than 1% of patients who undergo kyphoplasty experience complications. These complications include infection, cement leakage, and irritation or damage to other structures, including the spinal cord. About 5% of patients report that kyphoplasty did not reduce their back pain.

Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive treatment, but it's still a surgical procedure. Therefore, the same general risks apply as would with any other surgery. This somewhat ties into your question about age. With kyphoplasty, there is no upper age limit. As with most surgeries, the success of the treatment depends more on your physiologic health. In other words, a healthy 80-year-old would be a better kyphoplasty candidate than a 50-year-old with chronic heart, lung, and/or kidney conditions.

Fortunately, kyphoplasty is associated with far more benefits than drawbacks. Compared to other fracture treatments, kyphoplasty is unique in that it has the potential to restore vertebral height. Spinal compression fractures often cause kyphosis, which causes your back to round into a hunchback position. This can make you look inches shorter than you actually are. The fact that kyphoplasty helps correct this deformity is a huge benefit.

As I mentioned earlier, kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive surgical procedure. That means a shorter hospital stay for patients. In fact, patients are usually released the same day or within a day of their operation.

After kyphoplasty, many patients report an improvement in their mobility and quality of life. If you have spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis, then kyphoplasty may be a viable procedure for you. Talk to your doctor and don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions. He or she will make the best recommendation about whether kyphoplasty is right for you.

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