Background and purpose: Intravertebral clefts have long been considered as pathognomonic for avascular necrosis and as a rare cause of compression fracture. We have observed unsuspected clefts opacifying frequently during vertebroplasty. Our purpose in this study was to determine the incidence of these clefts in symptomatic osteoporotic compression fractures, assess the sensitivity of MR imaging and conventional radiography in the detection of these clefts, and determine whether there is any prognostic significance of these clefts in patients treated with vertebroplasty.
Methods: Retrospective chart reviews were conducted of 135 vertebroplasty procedures performed during a 2-year period. MR images and conventional radiographs were reviewed for the presence of clefts defined as fluid-filled cavities on MR images or gas-filled cavities on conventional radiographs. Digital radiographs obtained at the time of the procedure were inspected for the presence of opacified clefts. Imaging findings were correlated with subjective pain scores documented before the procedure and at 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, and 12 months after vertebroplasty.
Results: Two hundred thirty-six osteoporotic compression fractures were treated with polymethylmethacrylate in 125 patients. Thirty-one and eight-tenths percent of the fractures were noted to contain clefts at the time of vertebroplasty. Fluid-filled clefts were detected on preoperative MR images in only 52.8% of the fractures with opacified clefts at vertebroplasty. Gas-filled clefts were evident on preoperative conventional radiographs in only 11.4% of the fractures with opacified clefts at vertebroplasty. No significant difference was noted in numerical pain scores between the two populations at baseline or 1 week or 1 month after the procedure. Pain scores at 6 and 12 months after vertebroplasty showed a trend toward greater pain relief in patients with clefts, although the difference was not statistically significant. A sustained, statistically significant decrease in pain scores after treatment (P <.01) was noted in both groups.
Conclusion: Intravertebral clefts are much more common than previously described and probably represent fracture nonunions. Imaging is not sensitive in detecting these clefts before vertebroplasty. We advocate complete filling of the cleft with cement during vertebroplasty to maximize stabilization of the fracture fragments. There is a trend toward greater pain relief being achieved 6 and 12 months after the procedure in patients with clefts that are opacified at the time of vertebroplasty.