Q&A Spinal Compression Fractures

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one-in-two women and one-in-four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime; many of these fractures are in the spine. Marcel Maya, MD, discusses the latest minimally invasive treatment for spinal compression fractures. 

Dr. Maya is a diagnostic and  interventional neuroradiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center, where he also directs the Radiology Residency Program. Dr. Maya is an expert in minimally invasive spinal procedures, including vertebral compression fracture treatment (kyphoplasty/vertebroplasty) and spine tumor ablation. He also specializes in endovascular procedures to treat a variety of conditions, including aneurysms, vascular malformations and strokes. Dr. Maya is board-certified in radiology and fellowship trained in neuroradiology. He received his medical degree from Istanbul University, completed his radiology training at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and his neuroradiology fellowship at New York University Medical Center.

Who is at risk for a spinal fracture?

These fractures are a common consequence of aging and the attendant increased risk for osteoporosis. In older individuals with osteoporosis, non-strenuous events such as a sneeze or a cough can result in a spinal fracture, leading to intense back pain. Spinal fractures may cause a stooped posture and loss of height.  

With Americans suffering more than 700,000 new spinal fractures each year, why do as many as two-thirds of these fractures go undiagnosed and untreated?

If you have weak bones as a result of osteoporosis, it is easy to sustain spinal fractures, but the symptoms can be easily confused with other back problems or simply dismissed as a “bad back.” Many patients consider back pain a normal part of aging and don't discuss fracture symptoms with their physician until they are at a debilitating stage, making treatment far more difficult. It is important to pay attention to your back and see your primary care physician for a diagnosis if you experience back pain.  If a spinal fracture is suspected during a physical exam, the diagnosis can be easily confirmed with a simple X-ray or MRI of the spine.  

What are the symptoms of a spinal compression fracture?

  • Sudden, severe back or neck pain
  • Possible loss of movement in arms or legs
  • Pain increases when sitting or standing, and is somewhat less intense with bed rest
  • Pain increases when coughing, sneezing or trying to move bowels
  • Pain may go away as the fracture heals over time
  • Multiple fractures may cause a curvature of the back and development of a hump
  • Loss of height

Can spinal fractures adversely affect a patient’s overall health?  

Unfortunately, pain and prolonged bed rest can lead to multiple secondary complications, especially in an elderly person.  Left untreated, one compression fracture can lead to multiple fractures that, in turn, may alter the shape of a patient’s spine and make it progressively more difficult to breathe, walk, eat or sleep properly.  

Why is it important to treat spinal fractures?

Without treatment, patients are at increased risk for developing serious and potentially fatal medical conditions.  After one spinal fracture, the risk for having another is five times greater, so it is important to seek timely treatment. Over time, a hunched back and chronic back pain associated with multiple spinal fractures can contribute to an overall diminished quality of life.

Are there any non-surgical alternatives for the treatment of spinal fractures?

Yes. Minimally invasive kyphoplasty gives patients an alternative to invasive surgery or conservative therapy in the treatment of compression fractures of the spine. The procedure requires a tiny incision in the back and is performed under sedation.  Using X-ray image guidance, a small needle is guided into the fractured area. The physician then guides an inflatable orthopedic balloon into the collapsed vertebra and inflates the balloon inside the fractured bone. The balloon is deflated and gently removed.  The cavity created by the balloon is filled with poly methyl metacrylate, which is medical-grade bone cement, forming an internal cast to support the surrounding bone and prevent further collapse.   The procedure usually requires minimal sedation and patients in most cases can go home the same day.

What are the usual benefits of the procedure?

Most patients experience the following benefits from the procedure:

  • Pain relief
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved mobility
  • Improved ability to perform daily activities

For more information about this procedure please call 310-423-8000.  

Why Choose the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center for Interventional Neuroradiology procedures?

The S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center provides a full range of advanced imaging, both radiology and cardiology, as well as interventional radiology and interventional tumor (oncology) treatments to the greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, Encino, Mid-Cities, Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, Studio City, Toluca Lake, and West Hollywood.