By the way Geraldine “Jerry” Rutledge moves around, you’d never know this sprightly 83-year-old has suffered several fractures in her back, an all too common occurrence for those like Jerry whose bones have become brittle because of osteoporosis. In one instance, she lost her balance and fell, another time she was moving boxes, and most recently, she was simply riding a stationary bike at the gym.
“These fractures caused me to feel the worst physical pain I have ever felt in my life. On a scale of 1 to 10, they were a 10 every time,” said Jerry, who has suffered seven fractures in the last seven years since retirement, the last two this past October. “You never get used to the pain and you never know what’s going to set it off.”
For people with osteoporosis, small movements, or even a sneeze or a laugh, can cause vertebrae, small bones in the back, to collapse on themselves resulting in vertebral compression fractures, which can lead to severe pain, limited mobility, deformity, trouble breathing, a hunched upper back, and loss of height.
“Many people think back pain is a normal part of aging so they never seek treatment and just live with it without ever seeing a doctor about it,” said Joshua Abrams, DO, an orthopedic spine surgeon at The CORE Institute.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, about 750,000 people suffer at least one vertebral compression fracture each year,i but only one-third of patients present to a physician for a diagnosis.ii
Even after falling in a department store and hurting her back nearly seven years ago, Jerry had to be convinced to go see a doctor about the pain. “I just thought it (the pain) would eventually subside,” she said. It didn’t, and she found herself in the emergency room with two vertebral compression fractures, for which she wore a back brace and received steroid injections for a period of six months. She said the pain never really went away, but did become more manageable.
“Most of these fragility fractures can be treated with simple bed rest, physical therapy, or pain medication. However, for others, particularly those with osteoporosis, the pain and limited mobility may never go away unless a procedure is performed,” said Dr. Abrams. “The good news is these procedures are minimally invasive and can potentially help patients achieve significant pain relief and get back to an active retirement and living life to the fullest.”
Jerry had a vertebral body balloon outpatient procedure, or vertebral augmentation, both the second and third time she found herself with vertebral fractures and severe back pain.
Vertebral body balloon procedures are used to strengthen and restore the shape and height of collapsed or fractured vertebra. A medical balloon is inserted into the fractured area and inflated to restore lost height and to create a space for the injection of special bone cement, which hardens and stabilizes the vertebra.
After the procedure, Jerry says she went from barely being able to stand or take a deep breath, to moving normally without pain in five days. A month later, she was back to her routine – going to the gym three times a week, taking care of the house, shopping, going to or hosting weekly supper clubs with friends, and making bi-weekly drives to the public library. She says she’s read more than 1,800 murder mysteries, historical novels and romance books.
“This procedure really gave me my life back. Pain isn’t my constant companion,” said Jerry, who has two children, two grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and a great granddaughter less than a year old. “I feel great today, no pain or walking bent over. ‘Fit as a fiddle’ as they say,’ and if I find myself with another one of these fractures, it’s good to know this option is out there.”
The risk of fractures steadily increases as people age and once a person suffers one, he or she is at five times the risk for a subsequent fracture. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with osteoporosis can improve their bone health through a combination of a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise, lifestyle modifications and medication. Osteoporosis affects about 10 million Americans; 80 percent are women.
In addition to the vertebral body balloon procedure, vertebral compression fractures can be treated with vertebroplasty, another minimally invasive outpatient procedure that can potentially reduce pain and improve mobility. In this procedure, a type of medical grade spinal cement is injected directly into the fracture, but unlike the balloon procedure, it does not attempt to restore the height of the vertebral body.
“Physicians work with their patients to determine which treatment approach is right for them based on the nature of the injury and the pain and disability level,” said Dr. Abrams, who has performed more than 1,000 vertebral body augmentation procedures. “This is why it is so important for patients to see a doctor to find out if the back pain they are experiencing can be effectively treated.”
DePuy Synthes Spine sponsors patient and physician education on vertebral compression fractures. The company is the manufacturer and developer of both vertebral body balloons and spinal cements for vertebroplasty or vertebral augmentation. Jerry received the DePuy Synthes Spine Vertebral Body Balloon.
The potential benefits of surgical intervention should be weighed carefully against the risks. Please consult a surgeon to better understand if vertebral augmentation is an appropriate option for you.
To learn more about osteoporosis or treatment options for vertebral compression fractures, visit www.allaboutbackpain.com.
About DePuy Synthes Spine
DePuy Synthes Spine has one of the largest and most diverse portfolios of products and services in spinal care and is a global leader in traditional and minimally invasive spine treatment. The company offers procedural solutions for the full spectrum of spinal disorders including adult and adolescent deformity, spinal stenosis, trauma and degenerative disc disease. DePuy Synthes Spine is part of DePuy Synthes Companies of Johnson & Johnson, the largest provider of orthopaedic and neurological solutions in the world.