Fractures in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) can cause severe back pain and loss of movement lasting more than 6 weeks. Vertebroplasty is a procedure in which surgical cement is injected into the fractured vertebrae. This can make the spine more stable and relieve back pain. The procedure is often done by a healthcare provider who specializes in radiology, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, or anesthesiology. However, an interventional radiologist or neuroradiologist most commonly does the vertebroplasty.

Side view of vertebrae, disks, and nerves showing compression fractures in vertebrae.

Before the procedure

Follow any instructions you are given on how to prepare, including:

  • Don't eat or drink after midnight the night before the procedure.

  • Tell your healthcare provider what medicines, herbs, or supplements you take; whether  you are, or may be, pregnant; or if you are allergic to seafood, iodine, contrast medium (X-ray dye), or other medicines.

During the procedure

Here is what to expect: 

  • You will change into a hospital gown and lie face down on an X-ray table.

  • An IV (intravenous) line is started to give you fluids and medicines. You may be given medicine through the IV to help you relax and make you feel sleepy.

  • A local anesthetic will be injected into the back to numb the area. Then, a needle is inserted into the back.

  • Contrast medium will be injected into the area. This helps show the needle and vertebrae clearly on X-rays. Using video X-ray images as a guide, the healthcare provider moves the needle to the vertebra to be treated.

  • A cement-like plastic material is injected into the vertebra. The procedure is repeated on other vertebrae if needed.

  • The entire procedure may take several hours, depending on how many vertebrae are being treated.

After the procedure

Here is what to expect: 

  • You will be asked to lie flat for 1 hour to 2 hours after the procedure while the cement hardens.

  • You will most likely be able to go home within a few hours. Or you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

  • You may feel an ache at the puncture sites for the next 24 to 48 hours. To ease this pain, use ice and pain medicines as directed.

  • Drink plenty of water to help flush the contrast medium from your system.

  • You may be able to go back to your normal light activities in a day or so. You may have to wait for several days or weeks for more vigorous activities. 

Potential risks and complications

Risks and complications after a vertebroplasty include: 

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Rib or vertebral fracture

  • Irritation of nearby nerves

  • Worsening of pain

  • Problems due to contrast medium, including allergic reaction or kidney damage

  • Leakage of cement, needing surgery to remove it (very rare)

  • Spinal cord or nerve root damage (very rare)

  • Pulmonary emboli (rarely, cement can travel to the lungs)