Spinal Fractures

examining patient's spine

Bones in the spine can break in an injury or after they weaken with age. A spinal compression fracture occurs when spinal bones (vertebrae) become weak, collapse and break.

Such fractures are common in people with osteoporosis, affecting about one-quarter of women after menopause and about half of women over 80. Older men are also at risk. Compression fractures occur in the softer bone at the front of the spine.


Osteoporosis (bone loss and brittle bones) is a common cause. Other causes include:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Not enough exercise
  • Medications such as prednisone, phenytoin or heparin
  • Medical conditions such as cancer or kidney failure


Mild to severe pain, usually in the upper or middle back, that worsens with standing or lifting. Often, the pain does not go away on its own.

Nonsurgical treatments

Mild or moderate symptoms can often be treated without surgery, an approach the OHSU Spine Center favors whenever possible. Regular exercise, good nutrition and osteoporosis medication can strengthen bones and prevent fractures.

  • Medication: Doctors can prescribe medications to reduce pain.
  • Rest and changes in activities.
  • Bracing: A brace can stabilize some fractures.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can offer treatments and exercise programs to help.

Minimally invasive treatments

  • Kyphoplasty: Plastic cement is placed in a vertebra (spinal bone) using a needle and balloon device. The procedure, also called balloon vertebroplasty, can stabilize the spine and reduce pain.
  • Vertebroplasty: This treatment, similar to kyphoplasty, also uses plastic cement to hold broken vertebrae together to stabilize the spine and reduce pain.