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:
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:
—Liquid cement is injected into the bone to ease pain and restore movement.
—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.
Treating or preventing osteoporosis can lower the risk of this problem.
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.
Last reviewed December 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 1/28/2021