Back Pain Due to Compression Fracture?
Kyphoplasty, Not Narcotics, May Be the Answer

By Gina Fedele

Dr. Margaret Clark, a breast imaging radiologist practicing in the Pittsburgh area, has extensive experience with minimally invasive image guided procedures. So, when her 81-year-old mother, Nancy Shaffer, was rushed to the ER with excruciating back pain, Dr. Clark wanted her to be examined by an interventional radiologist because she had been diagnosed with a compression fracture. Unfortunately, the hospital’s attending physician did not agree with Dr. Clark, and prescribed heavy duty pain medications, which made Nancy feel lightheaded, and caused her to fall. 

Feeling certain that more could be done to alleviate the pain, aside from reliance on narcotics, Dr. Clark spoke with her mom’s primary care physician and physician assistant to suggest kyphoplasty. Also known as vertebral augmentation, kyphoplasty is a spinal procedure in which bone cement is injected into a fractured vertebra through a small hole in the skin to help relieve back pain caused by a compression fracture. However, Nancy’s physician, relying on outdated medical information, believed kyphoplasty was a last resort. Her physician was unaware of newer studies regarding the effectiveness of kyphoplasty to reduce pain, improve quality of life, and even prevent subsequent fractures. 

Dr. Clark said, “After seeing firsthand how positively my father-in-law responded to kyphoplasty, and knowing Windsong performed the procedure, I worked with my mom’s physician, who ultimately made the referral.” Dr. Clark says, “I am thoroughly impressed with Dr. Dana Dunleavy, who directs Windsong Radiology’s interventional team. Dr. Dunleavy ordered the appropriate imaging and biopsy, confirmed that my mom had sustained an osteoporotic fracture.”

Dr. Dunleavy is the only Western New York physician that is trained and approved in the use of SpineJack implants (a new device for mechanical kyphoplasty). Dr. Dunleavy explains, “Treating spinal compression fractures and hip fractures reduces complications and hospitalization and improves quality of life. Traditional techniques included use of systemic drugs, rather than treating the underlying fracture, leading to inferior outcomes and increased side effects. Narcotics also contribute to the opioid epidemic, medication interactions, and can result in constipation, dizziness, falls, and subsequent fractures.” 

Dr. Clark hopes more people learn about the benefits of kyphoplasty, because it is a minimally invasive procedure with a high success rate with negligible risks when performed by an experienced physician. She emphasizes that kyphoplasty greatly reduces the need for narcotics and can significantly increase a patient’s function. Without this procedure Nancy would have experienced chronic pain and deformity.

Dr. Clark’s mom, Nancy, is not unfamiliar with the practice of medicine. She was Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s first head ICU and CCU nurse! The happy ending to this story; however, is that Nancy had a great advocate in her daughter, and she is now pain free and back to her usual activities. Her daughter hopes that by sharing their story, others can be spared the delay and unnecessary pain that osteoporotic spinal compression fracture can cause.

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