Vertebral Compression Fracture

Overview

Definition

A vertebral compression fracture is a break in one of the bones of the spine. It most common in the bones that are at chest level.

Vertebral Fracture
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Causes

Osteoporosis is the most common cause. Weakened bones are more likely to break from:

  • Everyday actions, such as coughing, sneezing, or lifting light objects
  • Falling from a chair
  • Tripping

Other causes may be:

  • Trauma from:
    • A steep fall
    • A motor vehicle accident
    • A sports accident
    • Violence
  • Bone cancer

Risk Factors

A fracture caused by osteoporosis is more common in women who have been through menopause. A fracture caused by trauma is more common in young men.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Prior history of fractures
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Prior falls or being at risk of falling
  • Inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Long term corticosteroid use

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Mild to severe pain in the middle or lower back
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • Problems walking

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the spine.

Images may be taken. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Treatments

Treatment

Underlying causes will need to be treated. The goal of treatment is to manage pain and help with healing. Options depend on the severity of the fracture. Choices are:

  • Over the counter or prescription pain relievers
  • A back brace
  • Physical therapy to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Some people may need surgery. Choices are:

  • Vertebroplasty —Liquid cement is injected into the bone to ease pain and restore movement.
  • Kyphoplasty —A balloon-like device is used to create a small space in the bone near the fracture. The cement is injected into the space.
  • Spinal fusion —Two or more bones are joined together in the spine.

Prevention

Treating or preventing osteoporosis can lower the risk of this problem.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Fracture, Vertebral Compression)

RESOURCES

National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases https://www.niams.nih.gov 

National Osteoporosis Foundation https://www.nof.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://coa-aco.org 

Women's College Hospital—Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca 

References

McCarthy J, Davis A. Diagnosis and Management of Vertebral Compression Fractures. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Jul 1;94(1):44-50.

Thoracolumbar vertebral compression fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/thoracolumbar-vertebral-compression-fracture. Accessed January 28, 2021.

Vertebral compression fractures. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Vertebral-Compression-Fractures. Accessed January 28, 2021.

Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=vertebro. Accessed January 28, 2021.