Patients' Guide To
Spinal Fractures & Kyphoplasty

Spinal Fractures: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a spinal compression fracture?

A spinal compression fracture (also known as a vertebral compression fracture or VCF) occurs when 1 or more of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) breaks and collapses.  Osteoporosis is the leading cause of spinal compression fractures, but trauma and spinal tumors may also cause fracturing in the spine.
Illustration of vertebral compression fractureWhile bone loss can affect anyone, certain risk factors may make you more susceptible to osteoporosis and spinal compression fractures. Photo Source:

What are the risk factors for spinal compression fractures?

While bone loss can affect anyone, certain risk factors may make you more susceptible to osteoporosis and spinal compression fractures. These risk factors include:

  • Getting older: As we age, our bones naturally lose some density and become weaker. Weak bones are more vulnerable to fracture.
  • Being a woman: Bone loss is more common in women, especially post-menopausal women. Women lose bone mass at an accelerated rate in the first 5 to 7 years after menopause. During menopause, women experience plummeting levels of estrogen, which is a female sex hormone that protects bones. The steep drop in estrogen makes bones more prone to fractures.
  • Having a pre-existing spinal fracture: If you’ve already had a spinal fracture, you have greater odds of having another. Over time, multiple fractures can cause a loss of height and lead to the formation of a hunchback curve in your spine. Your doctor may refer to this abnormal curve as kyphosis.
  • Taking certain medications: Some drugs may harm bone health. If you’re concerned about your bone health, tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking. Your doctor may suggest a different course of drug therapy to protect your bones.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits: Smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and not exercising can all affect healthy bone density. Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Living a sedentary lifestyle makes bones weak, making them prone to bone loss and fracture.

What are the symptoms of a spinal fracture?

You may feel a dull pain in your bones or muscles in the early stages of bone loss. In most cases, spinal fractures happen gradually. However, they can occur as a result of an “everyday” activity, such as lifting a heavy object. Sometimes, the trauma is minimal, such as coughing or reaching. The symptoms of spinal fractures are often mistaken for less serious back pain. You may experience pain ranging from sudden and severe to long-lasting and dull.

How are spinal fractures diagnosed?

Schedule a bone mineral density test, and talk to your doctor about any back pain or changes in posture (eg, gradual development of a hunchback posture). A physical exam, along with other diagnostic tests (eg, x-ray), can help determine whether your back pain may be due to a fracture.

How are spinal fractures treated?

Patients with vertebral compression fractures may be treated with bed rest, bracing, or pain medications. Most patients heal using these non-surgical treatments, but risks may remain, such as continued pain, spinal deformity, and the potential for spinal canal compromise.

In addition, bed rest should be used for only a short period of time to prevent additional complications. Too much rest can impede rebuilding bone mineral density, decondition muscles, cause bed sores, and even increase your risk of pneumonia and urinary tract infections.Because of these potential risks and the relatively low risk of surgery, many patients are offered a vertebral augmentation procedure using minimally invasive procedures, such as a unique spinal implant, vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. These surgical treatments specificially for VCF employ the use of bone cement to stabilize the vertebral compression fracture.

If you’re confused about whether you need surgery for your spinal fracture(s), talk to your doctor. He or she will determine if you are a good candidate for any of these procedures. Asking your doctor questions about the risks and benefits of treatment will help you confidently make an informed decision.


Updated on: 05/15/19
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What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?
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What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?

A vertebral compression fracture (VCF) is a type of spinal fracture affecting one or more vertebral bodies. Sudden and severe back pain is a classic symptom and causes include osteoporosis, trauma, injury and spinal tumor.
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