Vertebral bone quality score predicts fragility fractures independently of bone mineral density

Jeff Ehresman, Andrew Schilling, Xinghai Yang, Zach Pennington, Ali Karim Ahmed, Ethan Cottrill, Daniel Lubelski, Majid Khan, Kendall F. Moseley, Daniel M. Sciubba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Current evidence suggests that dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans, the conventional method defining osteoporosis, is underutilized and, when used, may underestimate patient risk for skeletal fragility. It has recently been suggested that other imaging modalities may better estimate bone quality, such as the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based vertebral bone quality (VBQ) score which also may assess vertebral compression fracture risk in patients with spine metastases. Purpose: To evaluate whether VBQ score is predictive of fragility fractures in a population with pre-existing low bone density and at high-risk for fracture. Study Design/Setting: Retrospective single-center cohort. Patient Sample: Patients followed at a metabolic bone clinic for osteopenia and/or osteoporosis. Outcome Measures: Radiographically-documented new-onset fragility fracture. Methods: Patients with a DXA and MRI scans at the time of consultation and ≥2-year follow-up were included. Details were gathered about patient demographics, health history, current medication use, and serological studies of kidney function and bone turnover. For each patient, VBQ score was calculated using T1-weighted lumbar MRI images. Univariable and multivariable analyses were used to identify the independent predictors of a new fragility fracture. To support the construct validity of VBQ, patient VBQ scores were compared to those in a cohort of 45 healthy adults. Results: Seventy-two (39.1%) study participants suffered fragility fractures, the occurrence of which was associated with higher VBQ score (3.50 vs. 3.01; p<.001), chronic glucocorticoid use (30.6% vs. 15.2%; p=.014), and a history of prior fragility fracture (36.1% vs. 21.4%; p=.030). Mean VBQ score across all patients in the study cohort was significantly higher than the mean VBQ score in the healthy controls (p<.001). In multivariable analysis, new-onset fracture was independently associated with history of prior fracture (OR=6.94; 95% confidence interval [2.48–19.40]; p<.001), higher VBQ score (OR=2.40 per point; [1.30–4.44]; p=.003), higher body mass index (OR=1.09 per kg/m²; [1.01–1.17]; p=.03), and chronic glucocorticoid use (OR=2.89; [1.03–8.17]; p=0.043). Notably, DXA bone mineral density (BMD) was not found to be significantly predictive of new-onset fractures in the multivariable analysis (p=.081). Conclusions: Here we demonstrate the novel, MRI-derived VBQ score is both an independent predictor of fragility fracture in at-risk patients and a superior predictor of fracture risk than DXA-measured BMD. Given the frequency with which MRIs are obtained by patients undergoing spine surgery consultation, we believe the VBQ score could be a valuable tool for estimating bone quality in order to optimize the management of these patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-27
Number of pages8
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • DXA
  • Fracture
  • MRI
  • Opportunistic
  • VBQ, Spine
  • Vertebral bone quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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