Living with vertebral fractures

Jennifer’s story

A spot of DIY had serious consequences for Jennifer Towell of Surrey. Jennifer remembers: “I planned it to be a five minute job. A piece of wallpaper in our lounge had been annoying me for a while and needed to be re-stuck down. I climbed a ladder so I could reach it and before I knew it I had fallen on the floor and was in absolute agony. I was rushed off in an ambulance and spent the next three days in hospital.”

The fall had broken a bone in Jennifer’s lower back (known as a vertebral compression fracture), just one of the estimated 120,000 vertebral fractures which occur in the UK every year. An estimated two-thirds of these fractures remain undiagnosed or untreated.

Back home, Jennifer remained in terrible pain and was spending over half the day in bed as she couldn’t bear to stand for more than 10 minutes and even sitting was excruciating.

Jennifer recalls: “I was unable to work as even typing on a computer was too painful. Most of the time it felt as though I had been hit in the back with a sledgehammer. I lost my social life, as I wasn’t able to walk around or sit for a long period of time. My sleep was interrupted which affected me a great deal. It really began to restrict mine and my family’s life.”

Three weeks after her accident, Jennifer went back to see her specialist who recommended that she had a scan to test her for osteoporosis (brittle bones) as vertebral fractures like hers are the most common fracture in people with osteoporosis. Eventually Jennifer opted for a private scan which confirmed that she did indeed have osteoporosis of her spine.

Initial treatments

Following her fall, doctors placed Jennifer on a cocktail of 11 different painkillers to limit the pain she was feeling. Unfortunately these didn’t eliminate the pain she was feeling and the fracture was not healing as hoped.

How Balloon Kyphoplasty helped Jennifer

After the diagnosis of osteoporosis, Jennifer was offered a minor surgical procedure called Balloon Kyphoplasty to stabilise and rebuild the vertebrae.

During the short procedure, a surgeon makes two small incisions in the skin and inserts two tiny un-inflated medical balloons into the fractured bone. The balloons are inflated to raise the collapsed vertebrae. Once the broken vertebrae is in the correct position, the balloons are deflated and removed and the space is filled with bone cement which stabilises the affected bones, helping them to heal properly.

Balloon kyphoplasty is a simple treatment that has been used in more than 700,000 patients worldwide.

The future for Jennifer

For Jennifer the surgery turned out to be a very straightforward affair, and she was out of hospital within days. She recalls: “After the surgery my back took a little while to settle down but I could feel an immediate improvement.

“A few months on and now I am back to normal. I am able to work again, socialise and spend more time with my grandchildren. It’s fantastic. The surgery has given me back my zest for life.”

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2011

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