Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Health Library Home>Disease, Condition, & Injury Fact Sheets>Article

Vertebral Compression Fracture

(Fracture, Vertebral Compression)

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
factsheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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:

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:

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.

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.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS  Last Updated: 1/28/2021