ByJames E. Johnson, DO

Pain Center, St. Marys Medical Center

Everyone deals with pain now and again. It's part of life. But, when pain becomes an ever-present part of your life, life can be not so good. Even if you're not dealing with chronic pain, there's a good chance you have a loved one, friend, neighbor or co-worker who is.

September is National Pain Awareness Month, a time when dozens of organizations try to raise awareness about the problem of chronic pain and to highlight the need for research toward new, innovative treatment options. For many of us involved in pain management, it's a year-round effort reaching out to a fairly significant audience.

The Institute of Medicine estimates around one third of all Americans suffer from chronic pain, generally defined as persistent pain lasting more than six months. According to the American Pain Society, pain treatment consumes about 10 percent of all healthcare dollars, but the category receives only about one percent of current research funding.

In spite of this, much advancement has been made in pain management in recent years. A relatively new procedure I've been performing for the past three years has shown some impressive results for my patients suffering from spinal fractures, due to injury, cancers and primarily osteoporosis.

Balloon kyphoplasty is a minimally-invasive procedure designed to repair vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) by reducing and stabilizing those fractures. I believe it's a big improvement over vertebroplasty, an older procedure using a special medical-grade cement mixture injected into a fractured vertebra.

Unlike vertebroplasty, balloon kyphoplasty uses two orthopedic balloons, guided through small tubes into the vertebra and carefully inflated to restore vertebral height and correct other deformities.

After inflation, the balloons are then deflated and removed, leaving a cavity, or opening to deposit the bone cement. It forms an internal cast and stabilizes the fracture. I typically describe it to my patients as "mud jacking" for your back.

The kyphoplasty procedure takes about one hour for one vertebra. If two are involved, perhaps an extra 15-20 minutes. Patients are closely monitored in the recovery room immediately following the kyphoplasty procedure and typically are moving within eight to 10 minutes.

Pain relief is immediate for some patients. In others, pain reduction may take a day or two. At home, patients can return immediately to normal daily activities but should avoid strenuous exertion and heavy lifting for at least six weeks. Patients usually have less pain and a better quality of life following the procedure. They usually need fewer pain medicines, and can move better than before.

Are you a candidate for this procedure?

Patients experiencing painful symptoms or spinal deformities from recent osteoporotic compression fractures are likely candidates for kyphoplasty. It's important that the procedure be completed within six weeks of the fracture to get the best outcome. And, the sooner the better.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that more than half of Americans over the age of 50 suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone mineral density - BMD) that is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis). Women make up the vast majority of this group at approximately 80 percent of the affected population.

Osteoporosis is a chronic, progressive disease. Patients who sustain fractures from osteoporosis are at increased risk for additional fractures due to the loss of bone strength caused by osteoporosis.

Patients should see their physician to begin or review their treatment plan for osteoporosis, lowering their risk for fractures, including medications to prevent further bone loss.

Dr. Johnson is a pain management specialist with the Pain Center at St. Marys Medical Center. He can be reached at 816-655-5270.