Vertebral wedging occurs when the front of one of your vertebrae collapses. This is a type of fracture that often occurs in people with osteoporosis.

Anywhere from 1–1.5 million vertebral compression fractures occur each year in the United States. Nearly half of these are thought to occur in people over age 80.

Vertebral compression fractures occur when one of your vertebrae collapses. Compression fractures can be divided into three types:

  • Wedge fractures: Wedge fractures usually develop when one side of your vertebra collapses, which causes a wedge shape. These fractures usually occur in the front of your vertebra.
  • Crush fracture: Crush fractures occur when your entire vertebra collapses.
  • Burst fracture: Burst fractures occur when your vertebra fractures in multiple directions. They’re the most severe type of compression fracture.

Wedge fractures are the most common type of vertebral fracture. They can often be treated conservatively but sometimes require surgery to stabilize your spine.

Read on to learn more about vertebral wedging, including why it happens, potential symptoms, and treatment options.

A vertebral wedge fracture is a type of compression fracture that occurs when one side of your vertebrae collapses and creates a wedge shape. These fractures usually occur in the front of your vertebrae.

Compression fractures occur mostly in older adults and are associated with osteoporosis. Women develop osteoporosis four times more often than men.

Compression fractures most commonly occur in the middle of the back.

Compression fractures can cause sharp back pain that’s often described as stabbing. Your pain may:

  • come on suddenly and become chronic
  • increase while you’re walking or standing
  • get worse while you’re lying on your back

Eventually, you may develop:

  • a type of irregularity of your spine called kyphosis, which causes you to hunch over
  • loss of height
  • disability

Developing osteoporotic vertebral fractures can increase your risk of future fractures. The risk of a future fracture is about four times higher if you have a previous compression fracture. People who have osteoporotic vertebral fractures also have about a three times higher risk of developing lung issues.

Compression fractures are often caused by underlying osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the gradual loss of mineral density from your bones. It usually doesn’t cause any symptoms until you break a bone.

Osteoporosis can develop over many years without causing issues. Once your bone strength is affected, you may develop a fracture from routine activities, such as stepping out of the shower or even sneezing.

In younger people, about half of compression fractures are due to motor vehicle accidents and 25% are from falls.

Your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis based on your medical history and a physical exam. You may undergo imaging tests, which can show damage to your vertebrae and confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:

Compression fractures are a hallmark symptom of osteoporosis. The hip and spine are the most common places people experience fractures associated with osteoporosis.

The following may increase your risk of osteoporosis:

  • being older
  • being female
  • having smaller bone structure
  • being white or Asian
  • having a family history of osteoporosis
  • consuming a diet low in calcium and vitamin D
  • having inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis
  • taking certain medications, such as steroids

Learn more about preventing osteoporosis.

Compression fractures can be treated conservatively or surgically. They’re commonly treated conservatively since surgery comes with a small risk of complications.

Conservative treatment options include:

With these treatments, many people experience pain relief within 6–12 weeks.

Surgical options include vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. These procedures involve injecting a cement mixture into your bone to help stabilize it.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if:

  • you have had a fracture for at least 2 weeks that’s causing at least moderate pain and isn’t responding to conservative treatment
  • your fracture is related to cancer, including multiple myeloma
  • you have a type of tumor called a hemangioma, which is a benign tumor
  • you have vertebral osteonecrosis, which is death of bone tissue from loss of blood supply
  • you have a weak vertebral body and require surgical stabilization

It’s essential to see a doctor immediately if you think you may have a wedge fracture. They can help you determine if your vertebra is fractured and how to treat it.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) recommends getting back pain evaluated if:

  • you’re under age 12 or over age 65
  • your pain is the same at rest as when you’re active
  • you also have unintentional weight loss
  • you have or have had cancer

In addition, the AANS recommends seeking immediate care if you have:

  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • high fever
  • severe pain, numbness, or weakness

A vertebral wedge fracture is when one side of your vertebra collapses, usually the front side. This is the most common type of compression fracture.

Compression fractures can often be treated nonsurgical methods, such as physiotherapy, rest, and pain medication. In some cases, you may need surgery to stabilize your spine.