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Consequences of Spinal Fracture

If a spinal fracture is left untreated, the vertebra may heal in the “broken” or “caved in” position. This can lead to kyphosis, the medical term for the visible postural change that people refer to as a “dowager’s hump” or “hunchback.”

How Does Spinal Fracture Cause Kyphosis?

Picture your vertebrae as separate blocks stacked upright in a column. When vertebrae fracture and collapse, the “blocks” can no longer rest upright on top of one another.  Instead, the “blocks” now lean forward, which can cause the spine to shorten and tilt forward.

If several vertebrae collapse, the spinal column shortens and angles forward even more. This misalignment of the spine could cause you to lose inches in height or develop a dowager’s hump, also called “kyphosis” or “hunchback.”

What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Kyphosis?

Just one spinal fracture that remains deformed shortens the spine and pushes it forward, adversely affecting spinal alignment. Each additional spinal fracture increases the spinal deformity,[15,19,9] and the spinal curvature can become more pronounced.

When you change your posture to compensate for kyphotic deformity, it can affect how you walk and strain your back and joints. A misaligned spine can compress your internal organs and cause medical problems seemingly unrelated to your spine.

Some of the health problems related to kyphosis include:

  • Reduced mobility, loss of balance and increased risk of falls[2,3]
  • Reduced lung function1,4
  • Reduced ability to take care of yourself or perform your usual work or retirement activities14,5,6
  • Reduced days of activity and more days in bed14,7,8
  • Decreased appetite and sleep disorders16
  • Chronic back pain and fatigue17,8
  • Decreased quality of life18,9
  • Feelings of isolation and sadness10
  • Increased risk for future fracture15,18,11,12
  • Increased risk of death11,13

Because spinal fractures aren’t always accompanied by pain, anyone over age 50 should report differences in spinal mobility, height loss, or postural changes to their doctor.

Why It’s Important to Treat Spinal Fracture

Hear a doctor explain why it’s important to treat spinal fracture.


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  • Sinaki M. Falls, fractures, and hip pads. Curr Osteoporos Rep 2004;2(4):131-7.
  • Sinaki M, Brey RH, Hughes CA, Larson DR, Kaufman KR. Balance disorder and increased risk of falls in osteoporosis and kyphosis: significance of kyphotic posture and muscle strength. Osteoporos Int 2005;16(8):1004-10.
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Disclosure: an asterisk (*) denotes that some/all of the authors are paid Medtronic consultants. A cross (†) indicates that research cited may have been funded partially, or in whole, by Medtronic.