PURPOSE: We sought to determine whether percutaneous vertebroplasty - which involves the injection of cement to stabilize a fractured vertebral body - may be an effective treatment for vertebral fracture. METHODS: We enrolled 79 consecutive osteoporotic patients (24 men and 55 women; ages 51 to 93 years) presenting with acute vertebral fractures. Clinical characteristics and bone densitometry were measured at baseline. Pain scores (on a 0 to 25 scale) and levels of function (on a 0 to 20 scale) were recorded on presentation, at 24 hours, at 6 weeks, and 6 to 12 months after therapy. RESULTS: Fifty-five patients (70%) were treated by percutaneous vertebroplasty and 24 (30%) were treated by conservative therapy alone. They were followed for a mean of 215 days (range, 57 to 399 days). The baseline clinical characteristics, bone densitometry, and fracture data were similar in the two groups. Twenty-four hours after vertebroplasty, there was a 53% reduction in pain scores (from 19 to 9; P = 0.0001) and a 29% improvement in physical functioning (from 14 to 18; P = 0.0001), whereas pain scores and physical functioning remained unchanged at 24 hours in the patients treated conservatively (both P = 0.0001 compared with the changes after percutaneous vertebroplasty). Thirteen patients (24%) treated by percutaneous vertebroplasty were able to cease all analgesia after 24 hours (P = 0.0001 compared with none of the 24 patients treated conservatively). Clinical outcomes at 6 weeks and 6 to 12 months were similar in both groups. CONCLUSION: When compared with conservative therapy, percutaneous vertebroplasty results in prompt pain relief and rapid rehabilitation. In experienced hands, it is a safe and effective procedure for treating acute osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures.