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Surgery May Not Be Better For Spine Fractures

Mon, 07/15/2013 - 9:27am
Andrew M. Seaman

Getting back surgery to fix fractures caused by compression of the spine may not be any more beneficial than more conservative treatments, according to a new study of Medicare patients.

Researchers found that people who had so-called spinal augmentation had a similar likelihood of dying or having major complications as those who didn't have the surgery.

"I can't say there is no effect in patients who swear by their procedure, but in looking at objective measures we can't say it's effective," said Dr. Brendan McCullough, the study's lead author who did the research while at the University of Washington in Seattle.

During spinal augmentation, doctors fill compression fractures - usually caused by the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis - in people's vertebrae with a bone cement.

Research has found that spinal augmentation relieves the pain of back fractures, but more recent studies suggest the procedure's perceived benefits may be due to a placebo effect - or mind over matter.

Spinal fractures, however, can lead to more problems than just chronic pain. They have, for example, been tied to a doubled risk of death. Therefore, some believe the procedure may help reduce the risk of death in people with fractures.

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