What Are Vertebral Fractures?

Vertebral fractures refer to a break in any of the bones—called vertebrae—of your spinal column. Approximately half of all vertebral fractures tend to occur in your cervical (neck) spine area.

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Causes and Risk Factors

Vertebral fractures can result from a traumatic injury or indirect stress due to excessive spinal flexing, extension, rotation or bending. It can also result from the progression of osteoporosis.

  • Young adult males are at the greatest risk of vertebral injury from automobile accidents, sports injuries, and violence. About 80% of all people with vertebral fractures are male. Approximately 55% of those injured are 16 to 30 years old.
  • A vertebral compression fracture should be suspected in any patient over the age of 50 with an acute onset of back pain. For women with risk factors for osteoporosis, a vertebral fracture should be suspected in any woman over age 45 who has sudden back pain.


The most common symptoms of vertebral fractures include one or more of a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Deformity and disability
  • Height loss
  • Limited spinal mobility
  • Lying on your back makes the pain less intense
  • Sudden onset of back pain
  • Standing or walking that makes the pain worse

Some Patients With Osteoporosis Experience Multiple Vertebral Compression Fractures.

Symptoms of these multiple fractures can include:

Bulging abdomen

As the vertebral fractures cause the patient’s spine to shrink in height, abdominal contents are compressed into less vertical space.

Hip pain

Also due to a shortened spine, the bottom of your patient’s rib cage may rub against the top of your hip bones.

Other Symptoms:

  • Height loss
  • Thoracic kyphosis (dowager’s hump)


Vertebral compression fractures are not always easy to diagnose. During a physical exam, your pain specialist will ask questions to try to pinpoint or rule out a vertebral fracture. In addition, a neurological examination may be done to evaluate motor and sensory responses. Diagnostic techniques include:

  • A CAT scan to determine if a fractured bone is stable.
  • An MRI to deliver a high level of visual detail of the soft tissues surrounding the fracture. An MRI can also help determine the age of the fracture.
  • A nuclear bone scan can also be used to determine when the fracture occurred. The age of the fracture is sometimes important to help guide treatment options.

Treatment Options

At PMIR Medical Center, we understand that pain is a complex condition that affects the whole person—body, mind and spirit. We provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment, customizing the most effective treatment plans for our patients and empowering them to become a collaborative partner in their recovery process.

Pain from a vertebral fracture can last as long as three months without treatment. At PMIR, we offer treatment options for vertebral fractures that include:

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