Health Team

Cement Helps Knit Fractured Bones

Posted October 26, 2007 1:29 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2007 11:27 p.m. EDT

A new technique using cement is offering hopes of recovery to patients who suffered a type of fracture to the vertebrae that was previously untreatable.

More than 700,000 bone fractures nationwide each year are linked to osteoporosis, or the loss of bone mass, which weakens the skeletal system. Many of those fractures involve damage to the sacrum, the bottom shield-shaped bone in the spine.

Doctors once told those with a fractured sacrum that no treatment was available, but the bone might heal on its own. Jim Copes, 81, found a much better alternative when he recently went to the hospital after falling while walking to his car.

Copes said osteoporosis made the results of the fall worse. At first, he just wanted to lie down to wait out the pain.

"But once I got in bed, I can't turn over, I can't roll; my back was hurting so bad," he said.

Doctors discovered Copes had cracked his sacrum and referred him to Dr. Carroll Overton at WakeMed for a new remedy: sacroplasty using cement.

"We'll go in with local anesthetic and minimal sedation, and lay down cement along the fracture lines on both sides of the sacrum," Overton, an interventional radiologist, said.

Using an angiographic X-ray machine, Overton carefully places needles at the fracture points. They are "very small, abut the size of a pencil tip. You don't even need a stitch when we're done," he said.

The cement mixture starts out as a glue-like liquid that seeps into and fills "these little cracks and areas of weakness in the bone," Overton said. The mixture acts as a cast for the broken bone – only the cast is inside the bone and becomes part of it.

Two hours after the procedure, the patient is allowed to go home. Copes said he could have gone home sooner, feeling dramatic relief from pain the fracture had inflicted earlier.

"Oh gosh, I couldn't have made it. I told my wife I'd rather shoot myself than put up with that pain," Copes said, adding that he and his wife, Ruth, will be more careful to take calcium supplements to strengthen their bones.

The same cement mixture used in sacroplasty is also used to treat other fractures of the vertebrae.