To determine if vertebral compression fractures in elderly women were associated with impairments in physical, functional, and psychosocial performance.

Ten white women with confirmed vertebral compression fractures were age- and race-matched with 10 control subjects without fractures in a case-control design. All subjects invited to participate in this study were patients of the Geriatrics Division of the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center. All study participants lived either in the community or in the independent-living sections of local retirement communities in and around Durham, NC. Subjects with fractures (mean age = 81.9 years, SD = 5.9 years) had two or more vertebral compression fractures in their medical records, whereas control subjects (mean age = 79.6 years, SD = 6.5 years) had no history of vertebral fractures. Spinal radiographs of all women confirmed group assignment. Physical, functional, and psychosocial performances were evaluated. Physical performance was assessed by measurements of maximal trunk extension torque and thoracic and lumbar spinal motion in the sagittal plane, functional reach, mobility skills, 10-ft timed walk, and 6-minute walk test. Thoracic and lumbar spinal configurations were also determined. Functional performance was assessed using the Functional Status Index. Psychosocial performance was assessed with the following scales: Hopkins Symptom Checklist 90 Revised, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, West Haven-Yale Pain Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory, and single-item health-belief questions.

Control subjects were not significantly different from patients with fractures in age, weight, number of current illnesses, number of prescribed medications, number of pain medications, ratings of lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, or lumbar spine facet joint arthritis. Activity levels and exercise participation were similar in both groups. Control subjects had no vertebral fractures, whereas fracture subjects had 4.2 +/- 2.6 fractures (range: 2 to 10). Thoracic kyphosis was increased and lumbar lordosis was reduced in fracture subjects. Fracture subjects had reduced maximal trunk extension torque, thoracic and lumbar spine sagittal plane motion, functional reach, mobility skills, and 6-minute walk test. The Functional Status Index showed reduced levels of functional performance in fracture subjects compared with controls with increased levels of assistance, pain with activity, and difficulty in activities. Psychosocial performance was limited in fracture subjects with increased psychiatric symptoms, increased pain, and greater perception of problems caused by health.

Vertebral compression fractures are associated with significant performance impairments in physical, functional, and psychosocial domains in older women.