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Underlying cause: A case study on osteoporotic fractures

Pat Sheehan

Principal Consultant at BSM Galway

Pat Sheehan, principal consultant at BSM Galway, shares his experience of the balloon kyphoplasty procedure. He also discusses the stigma surrounding osteoporotic fractures and osteoporosis.


Fifty-two-year-old Pat Sheehan maintains a healthy and active lifestyle, enjoying jogging and regular games of golf. But when Pat was 37, he underwent surgery after having a heart attack. Now he receives ongoing treatment plans and monitoring to keep his heart healthy.

The discovery of osteoporosis shocked Pat. This severe case caused a fracture to his spine despite his otherwise healthy lifestyle.

“I felt sudden back pain last August.” Pat was two weeks into the Couch to 5k jogging programme. “I initially assumed it was muscle pain so I didn’t do much about it. About two weeks later, I was away on a golfing trip and was routinely swinging the golf club. I experienced another sharp pain in my back so I was advised to get an MRI scan.”

Osteoporosis diagnosis

Mr John McCabe, Spine Surgeon at Galway University Hospitals, confirmed to Pat that his MRI scan had indeed shown signs of a fracture of his L2 (second lumbar vertebra) but this wasn’t the result of any vigorous exercise – the underlying cause was severe osteoporosis.

Mr McCabe made me aware of the fact that younger people and younger men, like myself, do get osteoporosis.

“I’m 52 and I would have thought that osteoporosis is a disease that elderly women get. I didn’t expect to be diagnosed but Mr McCabe made me aware that younger people do get osteoporosis diganosis.

“After the scan, Mr McCabe was extremely helpful and suggested I undergo balloon kyphoplasty. It was under general aesthetic and an inserted balloon placed the bone back into the original position while added cement stabilised it. Thankfully it worked out very well. In two days after. Two days after, the pain I had been experiencing in my back was gone. I even went for a three-mile walk!”

This is one of the many benefits of balloon kyphoplasty – regular lifestyle routines don’t need to be sacrificed.

What you should do if you have an osteoporosis diagnosis

“I asked Mr McCabe how soon I could resume normal activities and he recommended weight-bearing exercise – exercises that work against gravity in order to strengthen the bone such as brisk walking.”

Although Pat does stand a significantly higher risk of future fractures because of his “extremely soft bones”, continuing to treat the underlying cause, osteoporosis, is crucial to avoiding these.

“I’m now under the care of an excellent rheumatologist, John Carey, and have a long-term treatment plan, including a daily injection of medication for two years and a further regimen of treatment afterwards. Mr McCabe advised if I ever got a pain in my back again, the first thing I should do is get an MRI and not assume that it is something else.

“This applies to anyone in a similar situation as me. If you have a persistent pain in your back and you can’t put your finger on what caused it, get an MRI scan to rule out an osteoporotic fracture or more sinister causes, such as cancer. I feel that there’s an unawareness among the general population of osteoporosis and the potential bone breakages and fractures that you can get as a result – you don’t need to be old, inactive or fragile for this to occur. So if my experience helps to raise awareness in this area, then that’s a great thing.”

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