Vertebral Compression Fractures - Symptoms and Treatments

Sep 04, 2023

Vertebral Compression Fractures

Our spine provides the backbone of our body's strength and flexibility. But what happens when that structure is compromised from a fall, accident, or osteoporosis? Read more to learn about compression fracture symptoms, treatments, and recovery.

A vertebral compression fracture (VCF) is a type of fracture that occurs in the vertebral bones of the spine. The vertebral bones are the individual bones that make up the spinal column, and they provide structural support to the body while also protecting the spinal cord.

A compression fracture happens when a vertebral bone collapses or is compressed due to a force that exceeds its strength. This can be the result of various factors, such as trauma from a fall, accident, or osteoporosis (a condition where bones become brittle and weak, making them more prone to fractures). 

Symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture can include:

  • Back Pain: This is the most common symptom. The pain may be sudden and severe or develop gradually. It's often described as aching or sharp and is typically localized to the area of the fracture.
  • Loss of Height: Because the vertebral bone collapses, the affected vertebra may lose some of its height, leading to a noticeable reduction in the person's overall height.
  • Change in Posture: The collapse of a vertebral bone can lead to a stooped or hunched posture.
  • Limited Mobility: Pain and discomfort can limit the ability to move and perform normal activities.
  • Neurological Symptoms: In severe cases, a compression fracture can compress spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself, leading to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or even paralysis, although this is less common.

Diagnosis of a vertebral compression fracture usually involves a physical examination, medical history review, and imaging studies such as X-rays, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or CT (Computed Tomography) scans. Treatment options depend on the severity of the fracture, the underlying cause, and the patient's overall health.


What treatments are used to treat vertebral compression fractures?

  • Conservative Treatments: Mild compression fractures may be treated with rest, pain medications, and back braces to support the spine as it heals. 
  • Kyphoplasty or Vertebroplasty: These are minimally invasive procedures where cement-like material is injected into the fractured vertebra to stabilize it and reduce pain. Kyphoplasty is offered by the expert spine specialists at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics. Read more about Kyphoplasty here
  • Surgery: In severe cases or when neurological symptoms are present, surgery may be required to stabilize the spine and relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Osteoporosis Management: If the fracture is due to osteoporosis, treating the underlying bone condition is essential to prevent future fractures. This may involve medications, lifestyle changes, and dietary adjustments to improve bone density and strength.

It's important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a vertebral compression fracture, as prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help manage pain, prevent complications, and promote healing.


How long does it take to recover from a vertebral compression fracture?

The recovery time for a vertebral compression fracture can vary widely depending on several factors, including the severity of the fracture, the individual's overall health, the treatment approach, and how well the person follows their doctor's recommendations. Generally, recovery from a vertebral compression fracture can take several weeks to a few months. Here's a rough timeline:

  • Immediate Period (Weeks 1-2): During the initial phase, the focus is on pain management and allowing the fractured vertebra to begin healing. Bed rest or limited mobility might be recommended, along with pain medications and possibly a back brace to support the spine.
  • Healing and Rehabilitation (Weeks 2-6): As pain and inflammation subside, you may gradually start to increase your activity level. Physical therapy might be recommended to help improve mobility, strengthen muscles, and work on posture. Your healthcare provider will guide you through appropriate exercises and movements.
  • Continued Recovery (Weeks 6-12): During this phase, you'll continue with physical therapy and gradually increase your activity level. Most people can start performing more daily tasks, but heavy lifting and strenuous activities should still be avoided.
  • Full Recovery (3 months and beyond): By around 3 months post-fracture, many people experience significant improvement in pain and mobility. However, complete recovery can take longer, especially if the fracture was severe or if there are underlying health issues.

It's important to note that the timeline provided is a general guideline and can vary from person to person. Factors such as age, overall health, the presence of underlying conditions like osteoporosis, and the success of the chosen treatment method can all influence the recovery process. Following your healthcare provider's advice, attending all recommended appointments, and adhering to the prescribed treatment plan are crucial for achieving the best possible outcome.


If you're recovering from a vertebral compression fracture, make sure to communicate openly with your healthcare provider at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics about your progress, any lingering pain or discomfort, and any challenges you might be facing during the recovery process. They can help tailor your recovery plan to your specific needs and monitor your progress to ensure you're on the right track. To schedule an appointment with our specialists at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics select the “Book Now” button, or visit our providers or services page to read more.