Osteoporotic vertebral fracture


Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What is an Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture?

Osteoporotic vertebral fracture is a common fracture that occurs due to weakened bones and is often associated with osteoporosis. The condition results from the compression or collapse of vertebrae in the spine due to decreased bone density.

Type of Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

  • Wedge Fracture: The front of the vertebra collapses, leading to a wedge-shaped bone.
  • Crush Fracture: The entire vertebra compresses or crushes.

How Common is Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture?

Osteoporotic vertebral fractures are quite common, particularly among the elderly population or individuals with osteoporosis. They are estimated to affect a significant number of individuals globally, especially postmenopausal women and older adults.

Causes of Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

Osteoporotic vertebral fractures are primarily caused by osteoporosis, a condition characterised by low bone density and deterioration of bone tissue. Factors that contribute to osteoporosis and, consequently, vertebral fractures include:
  • Age: The risk of osteoporotic fractures increases with age, especially in postmenopausal women and older individuals.
  • Bone Density Loss: Reduced bone mineral density weakens bones, making them more prone to fractures.
  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes, particularly in postmenopausal women, significantly affect bone density.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can lead to weaker bones.
  • Medications: Some medications, like long-term corticosteroids, may weaken bones over time.
  • Lifestyle Factors: A sedentary lifestyle, lack of weight-bearing exercises, and excessive alcohol consumption or smoking can contribute to osteoporosis.
  • Medical Conditions: Conditions affecting hormone levels or absorption of nutrients, like hyperthyroidism or digestive disorders, may increase the risk of osteoporotic fractures.

Symptoms of Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

The symptoms of osteoporotic vertebral fractures might include:

Back Pain

Sudden onset or gradually developing back pain, often in the mid-back or lower back, which may worsen with movement or when standing.

Height Loss

Over time, these fractures can result in a decrease in height or a stooped posture due to vertebral compression.

Limited Mobility

Reduced mobility, stiffness, and decreased range of motion due to the pain and potential spinal misalignment.

Potential Nerve Compression

In severe cases, neurological symptoms might occur, such as shooting pain, tingling, or numbness, which could indicate nerve compression in the spinal column.

Diagnosis of Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

The diagnosis of osteoporotic vertebral fractures often involves a combination of methods:

Medical History

The doctor will take a thorough medical history, including asking about the nature of the pain, its onset, and any relevant risk factors for osteoporosis or previous fractures.

Physical Examination

A physical exam may be performed to assess posture, mobility, pain level, and any signs of neurological symptoms.

Imaging Studies

X-rays are commonly used to identify vertebral fractures. Sometimes, further imaging may be ordered, such as MRI or CT scans, to assess the severity and for more detailed evaluation.

Bone Density Testing

A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) scan measures bone mineral density and helps in diagnosing osteoporosis, which is a major risk factor for vertebral fractures.

Laboratory Tests

Blood tests may be ordered to assess calcium levels, vitamin D, thyroid function, and other parameters related to bone health.

Specialised Tests

In some cases, other tests may be used to evaluate nerve function or rule out conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
A conclusive diagnosis of osteoporotic vertebral fractures typically involves a combination of these assessments to confirm the presence of a fracture and determine its severity.

Complications of Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

Complications arising from osteoporotic vertebral fractures can include several issues, such as:
  • Chronic Pain: Fractures in the vertebrae can result in persistent back pain, limiting mobility and daily activities.
  • Spinal Deformity: Multiple fractures may lead to a reduction in vertebral height, causing spinal curvature changes, like kyphosis (forward curvature) and loss of height.
  • Reduced Quality of Life: Chronic pain and spinal deformities can significantly impact quality of life, leading to discomfort, decreased mobility, and even affect mental health.
  • Functional Limitations: Pain and spinal deformities can restrict physical activity and result in limitations in functional movements.
  • Increased Risk of Future Fractures: Individuals with osteoporotic vertebral fractures are at higher risk for subsequent fractures.
  • Neurological Issues: Severe fractures can sometimes cause nerve compression, leading to neurological complications, such as weakness or numbness in the extremities.

Treatment Options for Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

The treatment for osteoporotic vertebral fractures is usually aimed at alleviating pain, facilitating healing, and preventing future fractures. Here are some common treatment options:

Pain Management

Pain relief is a key focus, often managed with over-the-counter painkillers, prescription medications, or muscle relaxants.


For some individuals, bracing can help support the spine and alleviate discomfort. It’s usually recommended for a specific period to assist in healing.

Rest and Activity Modification

Short-term rest and activity modification are often advised to allow the fractures to heal.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may be recommended to improve mobility, strengthen muscles, and maintain spinal health.


Bone-strengthening medications such as bisphosphonates, calcitonin, or denosumab can help reduce bone loss and minimise the risk of further fractures.

Vertebroplasty or Kyphoplasty

These minimally invasive procedures involve injecting bone cement into the fractured vertebra to stabilise it and reduce pain.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases where conservative treatments don’t suffice, surgery might be necessary. Procedures like spinal fusion, vertebral augmentation, or spinal reconstruction could be considered.

Preventing Osteoporotic Vertebral Fractures

Preventing osteoporotic vertebral fractures primarily involves strengthening bones and minimising the risk of falls. Here are some preventive measures:
  • Consume a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Foods like dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods or supplements can improve bone health.
  • Engage in weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, or dancing, to promote bone strength. Resistance training can also enhance bone density.
  • Take precautions to avoid falls, such as removing tripping hazards at home, using handrails, wearing appropriate footwear, and installing grab bars.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake, as these can negatively impact bone health.
  • Discuss with your orthopaedic specialist the need for bone density tests to assess your bone health and determine your risk of fractures.
  • If prescribed osteoporosis medications, take them as directed and attend regular follow-ups with your orthopaedic specialist.

Living with Osteoporotic Vertebral Fracture

Living with osteoporotic vertebral fractures often involves a focus on pain management, lifestyle adjustments, and preventing further fractures. Here are some key points for living with this condition:
  • Manage pain with the guidance of an orthopaedic specialist. This might include pain medications, physical therapy, and other non-invasive treatments.
  • Maintaining good posture and learning proper body mechanics can help reduce strain on the spine and minimise the risk of further fractures.
  • Engaging in exercises that improve strength, flexibility, and balance is beneficial. However, consult a healthcare professional before starting any exercise regimen.
  • Avoid activities or movements that may strain your spine and increase the risk of fractures. Using assistive devices or ergonomic tools can also be helpful.
  • Follow a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and consider supplements if necessary. Additionally, discuss osteoporosis medications and their potential side effects or benefits with an orthopaedic specialist.
  • Attend follow-up appointments with your orthopaedic specialist to monitor bone health, assess the risk of future fractures, and ensure that your treatment plan is effective.
Osteoporotic vertebral fractures can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Proper diagnosis, effective treatment, and lifestyle adjustments are crucial in managing this condition. If you’re experiencing symptoms or have concerns about osteoporotic vertebral fractures, seeking advice from orthopaedic specialists at a reputable clinic like The Orthopaedic Practice and Surgery Clinic is essential.
Take proactive steps to address these fractures, manage your symptoms, and prevent further complications by scheduling an appointment with their healthcare professionals.

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Osteoporotic vertebral fracture