Percutaneous vertebroplasty is increasingly used for the treatment of vertebral compression fractures. Local leakage of polymethylmethacrylate cement into the perivertebral space is a common complication, but important systemic effects have rarely been reported. The authors describe the case of a 52-year-old patient with central pulmonary embolism after percutaneous vertebroplasty of the eleventh thoracic vertebral body. The large cement embolus was removed from the right pulmonary artery with a hybrid technique combining an interventional catheter procedure with an open heart operation. The patient made an uneventful recovery. The authors review how appropriate arthroplasty techniques might minimize the risk of this dreadful complication.