Vertebral fractures are more strongly associated with specific bone density, structure, and strength parameters than with areal BMD, but all of these variables are correlated.
Introduction: It is unclear whether the association of areal BMD (aBMD) with vertebral fracture risk depends on bone density per se, bone macro- or microstructure, overall bone strength, or spine load/bone strength ratios.
Materials and Methods: From an age-stratified sample of Rochester, MN, women, we identified 40 with a clinically diagnosed vertebral fracture (confirmed semiquantitatively) caused by moderate trauma (cases; mean age, 78.6 ± 9.0 yr) and compared them with 40 controls with no osteoporotic fracture (mean age, 70.9 ± 6.8 yr). Lumbar spine volumetric BMD (vBMD) and geometry were assessed by central QCT, whereas microstructure was evaluated by high-resolution pQCT at the ultradistal radius. Vertebral failure load (∼strength) was estimated from voxel-based finite element models, and the factor-of-risk (ϕ) was determined as the ratio of applied spine loads to failure load.
Results: Spine loading (axial compressive force on L3) was similar in vertebral fracture cases and controls (e.g., for 90° forward flexion, 2639 versus 2706 N; age-adjusted p = 0.173). However, fracture cases had inferior values for most bone density and structure variables. Bone strength measures were also reduced, and the factor-of-risk was 35–37% greater (worse) among women with a vertebral fracture. By age-adjusted logistic regression, relative risks for the strongest fracture predictor in each of the five main variable categories were bone density (total lumbar spine vBMD: OR per SD change, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.1–4.3), bone geometry (vertebral apparent cortical thickness: OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.1–4.1), bone microstructure (none significant); bone strength (“cortical” [outer 2 mm] compressive strength: OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.3–4.8), and factor-of-risk (ϕ for 90° forward flexion/overall vertebral compressive strength: OR, 3.2; 95% CI, 1.4–7.5). These variables were correlated with spine aBMD (partial r, −0.32 to 0.75), but each was a stronger predictor of fracture in the logistic regression analyses.
Conclusions: The association of aBMD with vertebral fracture risk is explained by its correlation with more specific bone density, structure, and strength parameters. These may allow deeper insights into fracture pathogenesis.