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Vertebral Compression Fracture

What is a vertebral compression fracture? 

The vertebral column is made of bones, muscles, and tendons that extend from the skull base to the tailbone and is the important skeletal structure that surrounds the spinal cord. The vertebrae are the main supporting bones that make up the spine. A vertebral compression fracture is when the bone (vertebrae) breaks by collapsing. 

What causes a vertebral compression fracture? 

Vertebral compression fractures in pediatric patients are typically caused by a traumatic injury, such as a bike or car accident, a significant fall, or from a sports injury. In a patient with osteoporosis where the bones are fragile and brittle, a vertebral compression can occur in mild injuries like tripping or a minor fall. 

What are the signs of a vertebral compression fracture? 

  • Back pain that is dull or sharp  
  • Pain that spreads from the back to the belly or rib region  
  • Pain that worsens with lifting objects, coughing, or bending 
  • Improvement in pain with lying on back 
  • Limited movement of the back  

How is it diagnosed? 

The first test is typically an x-ray which looks for fractures and bone alignment. A CT and MRI can also diagnose a compression fracture but are not always needed. A test called DXA may also be obtained to measure bone density.  

How should I care for my child? 

Rest, ice, heat, and over-the-counter medications may be utilized to help manage your child’s pain. The clinician may order prescription medications if needed. It is critical for your child to avoid contact sports or strenuous activity while healing from a compression fracture. Frequent light movement and weight bearing activity is important to prevent muscle spasm and weakening of back and core muscles. Physical therapy may also be recommended for your child.  

When should I call the clinic? 

Call the clinic if your child: 

  • Reports numbness or tingling in their extremities  
  • Has urinary or bowel changes or accidents   
  • The pain is spreading down the arms or legs  
  • They are unable to walk 
  • The pain continues to worsen  

What else do I need to know? 

Vertebral compression fractures typically heal on their own and take on average 4-6 weeks to heal, but some patients may take 3 months to have complete recovery from symptoms. For more severe fractures, the clinician may recommend a TLSO brace for the back. Surgical intervention is not commonly needed for pediatric patients with a vertebral compression fracture. It is important to follow activity restrictions and follow-up as recommended by the clinician.  


This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the Children’s Neurosurgery Clinic at 651-220-5230. 

Reviewed 9/2023

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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