Surgery for pain relief

Sometimes, spinal fractures remain painful because of delayed healing of the fractured bone. In these circumstances, vertebroplasty or balloon kyphoplasty may be considered as a treatment option.

An overview of each procedure, who it is for and any side effects, can be found on this page. More detailed information can be found on the dedicated factsheet.

Download the percutaneous vertebroplasty factsheet

  • What is a percutaneous vertebroplasty?
  • What is a balloon kyphoplasty?

Who should have a percutaneous vertebroplasty or balloon kyphoplasty?

Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are generally considered for people whose spine fractures haven’t healed properly and who continue to have severe pain. They are not usually used to treat longstanding back pain associated with spinal compression fractures, nor do they improve bone strength or reduce fracture risk.

The techniques are more likely to be effective in the early months after fracture, but most compression fractures heal without intervention within 6-8 weeks with improvement in pain. Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty are not generally considered until after this time. An individual decision will be made about suitability of treatment on the basis of the pain, examination findings and tests which usually include a MRI scan.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects related to the procedure include cement leaks, infection, pulmonary embolus with cement blocking the blood vessels in the lungs, allergic reactions, spinal cord or nerve root injury as well as balloon rupture (with kyphoplasty).

In the long term, there are concerns that the treated vertebrae may cause an increased risk of fracture on adjacent vertebrae by increasing the pressure on them. Although recent research failed to confirm this, it remains a potential risk.

As with all surgical procedures there are risks involved, though they are uncommon. If you are having a general anaesthetic there may be a small risk associated with this. General fitness and the presence of other medical problems will be taken into account when assessing your fitness for the treatment.