Specialist medical procedures

Sometimes, a spinal fracture continues to cause severe pain. If this happens to you and pain relieving medications aren't helping, your doctor may consider a medical procedure, to help relieve the pain.

There are two different medical procedures that can reduce pain in this situation.

These procedures don't improve bone strength, or reduce your risk of breaking another bone. They are not suitable for most people with spinal fractures.

Vertebroplasty

Bone cement is injected to the broken spinal bone, helping to stabilise it.

Balloon kyphoplasty

A balloon is inserted into the broken spinal bone, and inflated to create space in the bone. Bone cement is then injected to fill the bone and stabilise it.

What to expect

These procedures are only carried out in a few specialist centres in the UK, so you may need to travel to have the procedure.

Both procedures take a couple of hours. 

The procedures are carried out under a general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic, which may include sedation. For both procedures, you need to lie on your stomach until the cement has set.

You may be asked to stay in hospital overnight afterwards.

Side effects and risks

Side effects for these procedures are uncommon. They may include:

  • cement leaks
  • infection
  • pulmonary embolus, due to cement blocking the blood vessels in the lungs
  • allergic reactions
  • spinal cord or nerve root injury
  • balloon rupture (with kyphoplasty)

In the long term, there are concerns that the treated bone may put pressure on surrounding bones, and increase the risk of them breaking.

You can find out more about both procedures in our vertebroplasty and balloon kyphoplasty factsheet.