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.
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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
Other causes may be:
- Trauma from:
- A steep fall
- A motor vehicle accident
- A sports accident
- Bone cancer
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:
- Prior history of fractures
- Prior falls or being at risk of falling
- Alcohol use disorder
- Long term corticosteroid use
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
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:
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.
National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases https://www.niams.nih.gov
National Osteoporosis Foundation https://www.nof.org
Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://coa-aco.org
Women's College Hospital—Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca
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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
- Review Date: 12/2020
- Update Date: 01/28/2021