Minimally invasive procedure for vertebral fractures is life-changing for patients in pain

Kyphoplasty, a state-of-the-art, image-guided procedure, restores mobility and permanently relieves pain for up to 90% of patients with spinal fractures

Mecklenburg Radiology Associates (MRA) is known across the Southeast for the expertise of its doctors and access to cutting-edge medical technologies. In this article, we spoke with Dr. Andrew Griffin to learn more about kyphoplasty, a procedure that our interventional radiologists perform that is not just life-changing but lifesaving. 

Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that stabilizes fractured vertebrae using moderate, or “twilight,” sedation. Most patients who have this procedure are older women with osteoporosis. Oftentimes, these patients endure severe pain that cannot be controlled with narcotic pain relievers. Dr. Griffin and his colleagues, Dr. Cuong Nguyen and Dr. Paul Capito have one of the busiest kyphoplasty practices in the nation. They treated over 300 patients last year at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

During kyphoplasty, interventional radiologists use imaging guidance to create a cavity within the fractured vertebra, then inject cement into the cavity under real-time visualization with fluoroscopy. This cavity is created with a balloon or a device called a curette. The cement stabilizes and permanently repairs the fractures.

MRA Radiologists have performed this procedure at Novant Health facilities for over two decades. Dr. Griffin said his team has performed kyphoplasty on patients as young as 30 and as old as 102, but the typical patient is an elderly female with osteoporosis, representing about 90% of cases. The other 10% are usually fractures related to underlying cancer in elderly patients. But Dr. Griffin said they have also seen younger patients with cancer or sometimes trauma-related fractures.

The procedure is most often performed on vertebrae in the thoracic and lumbar regions, meaning the mid-and lower back. A maximum of five vertebrae can be treated in one session, but there is no limit to how many fractures they can ultimately treat. Dr. Griffin said, “Patients are evaluated prior to the procedure in the clinic by our nurse practitioner, Katy Patterson, to make sure they’re an appropriate candidate for this procedure. We also see the patients one month after the procedure to ensure that their pain is adequately controlled and make appropriate referrals to address underlying osteoporosis.” 

What is most striking about this procedure is how it transforms lives. 

“This is one of the most rewarding procedures we offer,” Dr. Griffin said. “These fractures are incredibly debilitating. Patients are often bed-bound and can’t get comfortable despite taking high doses of pain medication.” According to Dr. Griffin, about 90% of kyphoplasty patients experience substantial pain relief that should be permanent. Once cement is in the vertebral body, it prevents it from being fractured again. 

Additionally, a study of Medicare patients showed that kyphoplasty significantly reduces mortality, meaning it saves lives when compared to non-operative management. Dr. Griffin said, “It’s not known exactly why, but some theories are that it decreases the patient’s need for high-dose opioids and restores mobility. If patients are stuck in bed in pain, they are at risk for developing pneumonia or blood clots in the legs that can travel to the lungs.” 

The expertise of our MRA kyphoplasty team and the state-of-the-art technology available at Novant Health means patient safety is always at the forefront. Biplane fluoroscopy, which is a special type of live X-ray, is used to guide their surgeries and allows them to treat the most complex cases. Furthermore, the majority of cases are performed with moderate sedation which decreases the risks associated with general anesthesia. “Being able to do this procedure quickly and safely is a huge advantage to having this done through Novant Health,” he said.

To learn more about this remarkable procedure and the exceptional specialists who perform it, please reach out to us today at 704.384.9654 or request a consultation.