Spinal Fractures Can Be Terribly Painful. A Common Treatment Isn’t Helping

Jan. 24, 2019 / By Gina Kolata

Scientists warned osteoporosis patients on Thursday to avoid two common procedures used to shore up painful fractures in crumbling spines.

The treatments, which involve injecting bone cement into broken vertebrae, relieve pain no better than a placebo does, according to an expert task force convened by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

The task force noted that the pain goes away or diminishes within six weeks without the procedure. Patients should take painkillers instead, the experts said, and maybe try back braces and physical therapy.

Patients also should take osteoporosis drugs to slow bone loss, said Dr. Peter Ebeling, head of the department of medicine at Monash University in Australia and lead author of the new report, which was published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

A patient who has had a spine fracture and does not take the drugs has a one-in-five chance of developing another fracture in the next year. With the medications, the odds are one in 20.

The new advice may not sit well with many doctors and patients. For chronic pain caused by fractured vertebrae, there are few good treatments. And many patients believe the procedures eased their pain and increased their mobility.

“That’s why people don’t want to let go of this,” said Dr. Alan S. Hilibrand, a professor of neurological surgery at Jefferson University and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.


Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as President and CEO of Surgio Health. Chris has close to 20 years of healthcare management experience, with an infinity to improve healthcare delivery through the development and implementation of innovative solutions that result in improved efficiencies, reduction of unnecessary financial & clinical variation, and help achieve better patient outcomes. Previously, Chris was assistant vice president and business unit leader for HPG/HCA. He has presented at numerous healthcare forums on topics that include disruptive innovation, physician engagement, shifting reimbursement models, cost per clinical episode and the future of supply chain delivery.

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