Vertebral Compression Fractures

Vertebral compression fractures are small hairline cracks in weakened or damaged spinal bones, which cause the vertebrae to compress, lose height or collapse.

Osteoporosis is the primary cause of vertebral compression fractures, though injuries, cancer and other diseases can weaken bones and lead to fractures. They are most common in the lower part of your spine, which endures a lot of stress. Compression fractures can cause debilitating pain, spinal deformity and loss of height.

In some instances, vertebrae can become so weakened by osteoporosis or injury that routine activities — such as bending over, stepping off a curb or sneezing — can cause a fracture. They can also be caused by sports injuries or other trauma to the spine.

Of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, 8 million are women. Vertebral compression fractures affect an estimated 25 percent of all postmenopausal women in the U.S. Although the risk of compression fractures is greater for women, older men are also at risk. Your risk also increases if you’ve had a previous fracture — your risk of developing another fracture is five times higher.


You can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis and vertebral compression fractures by incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle, such as eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, staying physically fit — including weight-bearing exercises — and practicing good posture and form during everyday activities.

Activities that stress and strain your spine can increase your risk of a fracture. Avoid activities such as:

  • Bending forward from the waist.
  • Excessive twisting and bending.
  • Lifting, moving and carrying heavy packages or other items.
  • Bending forward when sneezing, coughing or laughing.
  • Reaching for items on a high shelf.
  • Exercises that can strain your lower back, such as sit-ups, abdominal crunches or toe touches.

El Camino Health offers a variety of classes and programs that can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and avoid injuries. Your doctor can recommend additional steps to help you prevent compression fractures, such physical therapy to strengthen your back and improve flexibility.

Learn more ways to care for your bone health and detect bone conditions at the earliest stages. El Camino Health offers the latest technology in bone density screening.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Vertebral compression fractures can cause severe, chronic back pain, but sometimes the condition doesn’t cause symptoms. An initial fracture often leads to additional fractures, which can cause you to lose height or develop a curved spine or hunched posture, known as kyphosis.

It’s important to get proper treatment for vertebral compression fractures to allow your back to heal properly and prevent further deterioration of your spine. See your doctor if you experience any of the most common symptoms, including:

  • Back pain that comes on suddenly.
  • Pain that intensifies when you’re standing or walking, but improves when you lie on your back.
  • Inability or limited ability to twist, bend or move your back.
  • Loss of half an inch or more of height in a year.
  • Curved, hunched or abnormally shaped spine.

Abnormal spinal curves can cause pain as muscles, tendons and ligaments stretch or spinal nerves are pinched. In more advanced cases, internal organs become crowded and cause the stomach and abdomen to be pushed forward — it can even make eating and breathing difficult.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and use imaging exams — such as X-rays, CT scans or other tests, such as bone density screening at the El Camino Health Bone Density Center. These tests can identify broken bones or other bone conditions as your doctor develops a treatment plan. Annual checkups, which include a baseline height measurement and annual comparisons, can help detect height loss or other changes in your spine.

Treatment of Vertebral Compression Fractures

At El Camino Health, doctors begin treatment using nonsurgical options whenever possible, such as medication, physical therapy or a back brace. If you have osteoporosis, treatment may include weight-bearing exercise and increased calcium and vitamin D.

If vertebral compression fractures don't heal and pain or other problems persist, your doctor may recommend surgery, including minimally invasive spine surgery. Our orthopedic spine surgeons can use these less invasive approaches to repair and stabilize weakened backbones, prevent further injury and relieve pain. In many instances, they can reduce vertical compression and height loss by adding material to your spine, also known as vertebral augmentation.

Surgeons at El Camino Health draw from a variety of minimally invasive approaches to treat vertebral compression fractures.


During a vertebroplasty procedure, a specialist injects bone cement directly into the affected vertebra or vertebrae to stabilize and strengthen the area of your back. He or she uses real-time fluoroscopic X-ray imaging to guide the procedure. The cement helps prevent the fractured area from collapsing again.


In some instances, your doctor may recommend kyphoplasty — also called balloon kyphoplasty — which is similar to vertebroplasty. This procedure can help reduce kyphosis, a condition that causes a stooped posture. Kyphoplasty can also be used to correct other spine abnormalities, such as scoliosis, to help restore height in the spine.

During kyphoplasty, a specialist uses a needle to place a specially designed balloon in vertebral space. Once in place, he or she inflates the balloon to add space between the vertebrae and injects cement to stabilize the bone and keep it from collapsing.

Kiva® VCF Treatment System

The Kiva Treatment System includes the use of an implantable device to treat spinal fractures. To perform the procedure, a specialist implants a tiny metal device called a Kiva coil and uses X-ray imaging to guide a flexible polymer implant through the coil. Once the implant is in place, the surgeon injects cement into the implant, which acts like scaffolding to hold the cement in place while it solidifies.

For many people, less invasive fracture treatment procedures can relieve pain within 48 hours. In some cases, you can resume regular activities without pain almost immediately. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment option for you.