Using self-reports of pain and other variables to distinguish between older women with back pain due to vertebral fractures and those with back pain due to degenerative changes

Osteoporos Int. 2016 Apr;27(4):1459-1467. doi: 10.1007/s00198-015-3397-2. Epub 2015 Nov 13.


Women with back pain and vertebral fractures describe different pain experiences than women without vertebral fractures, particularly a shorter duration of back pain, crushing pain and pain that improves on lying down. This suggests a questionnaire could be developed to identify older women who may have osteoporotic vertebral fractures.

Introduction: Approximately 12 % of postmenopausal women have vertebral fractures (VFs), but less than a third come to clinical attention. Distinguishing back pain likely to relate to VF from other types of back pain may ensure appropriate diagnostic radiographs, leading to treatment initiation. This study investigated whether characteristics of back pain in women with VF are different from those in women with no VFs.

Methods: A case control study was undertaken with women aged ≥60 years who had undergone thoracic spinal radiograph in the previous 3 months. Cases were defined as those with VFs identified using the algorithm-based qualitative (ABQ) method. Six hundred eighty-three potential participants were approached. Data were collected by self-completed questionnaire including the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Chi-squared tests assessed univariable associations; logistic regression identified independent predictors of VFs. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves were used to evaluate the ability of the combined independent predictors to differentiate between women with and without VFs via area under the curve (AUC) statistics.

Results: One hundred ninety-seven women participated: 64 cases and 133 controls. Radiographs of controls were more likely to show moderate/severe degenerative change than cases (54.1 vs 29.7 %, P = 0.011). Independent predictors of VF were older age, history of previous fracture, shorter duration of back pain, pain described as crushing, pain improving on lying down and pain not spreading down the legs. AUC for combination of these factors was 0.85 (95 % CI 0.79 to 0.92).

Conclusion: We present the first evidence that back pain experienced by women with osteoporotic VF is different to back pain related solely to degenerative change.

Keywords: Back pain; Case control study; Osteoporotic vertebral fracture; Self-reported pain descriptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Back Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / complications*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / complications
  • Osteoporotic Fractures / complications*
  • Osteoporotic Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Social Class
  • Spinal Fractures / complications*
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / complications*
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Surveys and Questionnaires