Balloon kyphoplasty can be done in about an hour, under local or general anesthesia, according to Dr. Ben Zolper, of Northeast Pain Management in Bangor, who pioneered the use of the procedure in the state.

In balloon kyphoplasty, a small incision is made on either side of the spine, and tubes are inserted into the spongy material inside the fractured vertebra.

“It leaves two small nicks in the back that are covered by a Band Aid,” said Zolper.

After the tubes are in place, small pillow-shaped balloons are inserted through them, and inflated. As they inflate, they straighten the fractured, leaning vertebra into something more like its natural position.

After the balloons are deflated and removed, bone cement is piped into the space they leave behind. The bone cement then hardens and acts as an internal cast, permanently supporting the fractured vertebra and allowing it to heal in the right position.

It is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare, for qualified patients.

The technique, which takes about an hour to perform, is seen as an advance over its forerunner, vertebroplasty, in which cement is inserted into the vertebra without the use of a balloon.

In balloon kyphoplasty, the chance of the bone cement leaking into other areas is minimized, which is important, Zolper said, because leaked cement can cause anything from a minor nuisance to a major catastrophe, up to and including paralysis, when it hardens.

Zolper said similar procedures exist for certain ankle and tibia fractures.

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