FAQs on Vertebral Compression Fracture and Treatment at an AZ pain center

A vertebral compression fracture (VCF) is a painful condition caused by collapse of an irregular-shaped bone (vertebra) of the spine. These fractures cause serious pain and can affect ability to perform daily activities.

How common is vertebral compression fracture?

VCF affects around 25 percent of postmenopausal women in America. The prevalence rate increases with advancing age, affecting 40 percent of women 80 years and older. Women who are diagnosed with compression fracture have a 15 percent or greater mortality rate than those who do not have this condition.

What are the risk factors for VCF?

There are several risk factors for vertebral compression fracture. These include:


Advanced age

Female gender

Caucasian race

Presence of dementia

Susceptibility to falling

History of fractures during adulthood

Alcohol and/or tobacco use

Estrogen deficiency

Early onset menopause

Impaired eyesight

Low body weight

Dietary deficiency of calcium and/or vitamin D

How does a vertebral compression fracture occur?

A vertebral compression fracture occurs when a vertebra collapses due to loss of bone density or fracture. The most common site along the spine is the mid-back (thoracic spine), but VCF can occur in any vertebra. The most common cause of this fracture is VCF. However, metastatic tumors can cause them, as well as trauma from a sports injury, car accident, or hard fall.

What are the signs and symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture?

Vertebral compression fracture can lead to severe back pain, significant disability, and functional limitations. If a patient has multiple VCFs, this can cause progressive kyphosis (humpback) of the spine, as well as decreased lung function. Other symptoms of VCF include:

Increased pain when standing or walking

Limited spinal mobility

Loss of height

Spinal deformity

How is VCF diagnosed?

The doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and current medical condition. In addition, he/she will perform a physical examination. Imaging tests are used to confirm the diagnosis and include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) tests.

How does a vertebral compression fracture occur?

A VCF occurs when the vertebra (bony irregular spinal component) collapses from a fracture and loss of bone density. These fractures occur in the thoracic spine most often, but can occur anywhere. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of VCF, but these fractures can also occur from metastatic tumors and trauma (sports injury, hard fall, or car accident).

What are the treatment options for a vertebral compression fracture?

The treatment of VCF depends on the patient’s age, general health, and willingness to participate in therapy. The options are:


Bedrest and comfort measures – The doctor will recommend a short period of bedrest for the patient. In addition, a back brace is used for external support and to limit excessive motion of the fractured vertebra.


Prevention measures – To prevent further fractures, the doctor will prescribe bone-strengthening drugs, such as Boniva, Fosamax, and Actonel. These drugs stabilize the fracture and restore bone loss.


Analgesic medications – For pain relief, the doctor will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or stronger analgesics, such as opioids.


Vertebroplasty – This is a minimally invasive procedure where a small incision is made along the back and a special needle is inserted into the collapsed vertebra. Once in place, the doctor injects a special cement into the bone to fill and strengthen the vertebra.


Kyphoplasty – With this procedure, the doctor inserts a special needle into the vertebra through an incision in the skin. Once in place, a balloon is inflated at the end of the needle to expand the collapsed vertebra. Cement is then injected into the space to assure that it does not collapse again.