Spine Association for Education

Vertebral Compression Fracture (VCF)

Condition Overview

Vertebral Compression Fracture is medical terminology for a broken back (or broken vertebra). Usually, this condition is caused by a severe trauma—for example, a bad fall, severe sports injury, or car accident. However, bones made more fragile by osteoporosis, infection, or cancer can also contribute to a Vertebral Compression Fracture.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of a Vertebral Compression Fracture can include: sudden, severe pain in the neck or in the upper or lower back; loss of height; numbness, tingling, or weakness; pain when walking, bending over, and/or twisting; difficulty with breathing; and bladder and/or bowel control issues.

Methods of Diagnosis

A medical exam and imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI and CT scans, are typically used to diagnose a Vertebral Compression Fracture, pinpoint the damaged area(s), and guide treatment.

Methods of Treatment

Treatment for a Vertebral Compression Fracture can include: bedrest, ice packs, pain management medication, hot compresses after the first week, a back brace, and stretches and strengthening exercises. In severe cases, especially if nerves or multiple vertebrae are involved, back surgery may be necessary. For those considering surgery, several minimally invasive surgical procedures are available.


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