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New Pain Relief Treatment for Spinal Compression Fractures Related to Osteoporosis Pioneered at University of Virginia

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August 5, 1999 -- People who have prolonged and debilitating pain associated with compression fractures in their spinal vertebrae may be able to find relief with a procedure pioneered in the United States at the University of Virginia Health System.

The procedure, known as vertebroplasty, involves injecting bone cement into the vertebrae where a compression fracture exists, stabilizing the fracture and relieving the pain. Vertebral fractures are most often the result of osteoporosis.

"Vertebroplasty is a smart healthcare decision for patients who are good candidates for the procedure," said Dr. Lee Jensen, associate professor of radiology at U.Va. "We have found that relieving patients of their pain and enabling them to get out of bed and on with their lives is not only healthier physically and mentally, but makes good economic sense.

"A typical vertebroplasty usually costs less than $1,000 which is significantly less than would be spent on skilled nursing care alone when a patient is confined to his or her bed for the number of weeks that prior treatment options required."

Before the development of this technique, the only treatment for these patients was wearing a brace, taking analgesics and bed rest. This ongoing treatment was often as life altering as the condition itself. Now, we are able to offer patients a minimally-invasive treatment that can provide significant pain relief and give them back their mobility, she said.

Prior to the procedure, radiologists use X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and bone scans to find the fracture or fractures which are causing the pain. When the area is located and confirmed, the bone cement is injected into the vertebrae under X-ray guidance using a hollow needle. The patient remains on bed rest for several hours, allowing the cement to harden.

Vertebroplasty was originally introduced in France during the 1980s. In the United States, Jensen and her colleagues at the University of Virginia introduced the technique in 1993, and to date have performed approximately 115 procedures. Due to an increasing interest from doctors and patients, Jensen and her team have trained 300 doctors across the country, including Dr. Timothy Maus, a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic.

"The outcome of the patients we have treated has been very encouraging," Maus said. "As the population ages, this condition will become more common. Vertebroplasty, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes management of the underlying cause and rehabilitation, can bring great pain relief at modest cost and modest risk."

It is estimated that osteoporosis affects more than 10 million individuals in the United States, 80 percent of whom are women. An additional 18 million people have low bone mass which places them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is also responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures each year including 700,000 vertebral fractures.

Additional information on vertebroplasty can be found on the web site

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: HSC Media Relations


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