Vertebral compression fractures affect at least one-fourth of all postmenopausal women. The most significant risk factor is osteoporosis, most commonly seen among Caucasian women a decade or so after menopause. Osteoporosis typically results from inadequate accumulation of bone mass during childhood and early adulthood followed by rapid resorption after menopause. Primary treatment of osteoporosis includes consideration of underlying metabolic abnormalities and provision of supplemental calcium/vitamin D in conjunction with bisphosphonates or calcitonin, or both. Routine hormone replacement therapy has fallen out of favor because of concerns regarding adverse effects identified in long-term follow-up studies. Acute osteoporotic vertebral compression fracture management includes bracing, analgesics, and functional restoration. Patients with chronic pain beyond 2 months may be appropriate candidates for vertebral body augmentation, ie, vertebroplasty or balloon tamp reduction. Open surgical management with decompression and stabilization should be reserved for the rare patient with neural compression and progressive deformity with neurologic deficits.

To review current principles in the evaluation and treatment of osteoporotic compression fractures of the spine.

A literature review on management of the osteoporotic spine.

MEDLINE search of all English-language literature published between 1981 and 2005 on surgical and nonsurgical treatment of the osteoporotic spine. The references selected for listing at the conclusion of this review are those containing specific information cited within the text.

Over 200 separate scientific and clinical studies addressing the epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures were reviewed.

Osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures are a common presenting complaint to spinal care specialists. Thorough differential diagnosis should be considered before attributing fractures to osteoporosis. Appropriate evaluation and medical treatment of underlying osteoporosis should be recommended or instituted. Nonsurgical management of the spinal fracture should focus on pain control and maximizing functional outcome. The role of surgical treatment remains controversial and should be reserved for patients who fail initial nonsurgical management options.