- Talking to Your Doctor
- Common Questions
- Spinal Fracture Resources
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.
- Schlaich, C., et al., Reduced pulmonary function in patients with spinal osteoporotic fractures. Osteoporos Int, 1998. 8(3): p. 261-7.
- 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.
- Leech JA, Dulberg C, Kellie S, Pattee L, Gay J. Relationship of lung function to severity of osteoporosis in women. Am Rev Respir Dis 1990;141(1):68-71.
- Greendale GA, Barrett-Connor E, Ingles S, Haile R. Late physical and functional effects of osteoporotic fracture in women: the Rancho Bernardo Study. J Am Geriatr Soc 1995;43(9):955-61.
- Pluijm SM, Tromp AM, Smit JH, Deeg DJ, Lips P. Consequences of vertebral deformities in older men and women. J Bone Miner Res 2000;15(8):1564-72.
- Fink HA, Ensrud KE, Nelson DB, et al. Disability after clinical fracture in postmenopausal women with low bone density: the fracture intervention trial (FIT). Osteoporos Int 2003;14(1):69-76.
- Nevitt MC, Ettinger B, Black DM, et al. The association of radiographically detected vertebral fractures with back pain and function: a prospective study. Ann Intern Med 1998;128(10):793-800.
- van Schoor NM, Smit JH, Twisk JW, Lips P. Impact of vertebral deformities, osteoarthritis, and other chronic diseases on quality of life: a population-based study. Osteoporos Int 2005;16(7):749-56.
- Kado DM, Browner WS, Palermo L, Nevitt MC, Genant HK, Cummings SR. Vertebral fractures and mortality in older women: a prospective study. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group. Arch Intern Med 1999;159(11):1215-20.
- *Johnell O, Kanis JA, Oden A, et al. Fracture risk following an osteoporotic fracture. Osteoporos Int 2004;15(3):175-9.
- Lindsay R, Silverman SL, Cooper C, et al. Risk of new vertebral fracture in the year following a fracture. Jama 2001;285(3):320-3.
- Kado DM, Huang MH, Karlamangla AS, Barrett-Connor E, Greendale GA. Hyperkyphotic posture predicts mortality in older community-dwelling men and women: a prospective study. J Am Geriatr Soc 2004;52(10):1662-7.
- Lyles, K.W., et al., Association of osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures with impaired functional status. Am J Med, 1993. 94(6): p. 595-601.
- Lindsay, R., S. Pack, and Z. Li, Longitudinal progression of fracture prevalence through a population of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int, 2005. 16(3): p. 306-12.
- Silverman SL. The clinical consequences of vertebral compression fracture. Bone 1992;13 Suppl 2:S27-31.
- *†Gold DT, Silverman SL. The downward spiral of vertebral osteoporosis: consequences (Monograph). Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 2003.
- Silverman, S.L., et al., The relationship of health-related quality of life to prevalent and incident vertebral fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis: results from the Multiple Outcomes of Raloxifene Evaluation Study. Arthritis Rheum, 2001. 44(11): p. 2611-9.
- Black, D.M., et al., Prevalent vertebral deformities predict hip fractures and new vertebral deformities but not wrist fractures. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group. J Bone Miner Res, 1999. 14(5): p. 821-8.
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.