Abstract Background The identification of new methods of evaluating patients with osteoporotic fracture should focus on their usefulness in clinical situations such that they are easily measured and applicable to all patients. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the association between iliocostal distance and vertebral and non-vertebral fractures in patients seen in a clinical setting. Methods Patient data were obtained from the Canadian Database of Osteoporosis and Osteopenia (CANDOO). A total of 549 patients including 508 women and 41 men participated in this cross-sectional study. There were 142 women and 18 men with prevalent vertebral fractures, and 185 women and 21 men with prevalent non-vertebral fractures. Results In women multivariable regression analysis showed that iliocostal distance was negatively associated with the number of vertebral fractures (-0.18, CI: -0.27, -0.09; adjusted for bone mineral density at the Ward's triangle, epilepsy, cerebrovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, etidronate use, and calcium supplement use) and for the number of non-vertebral fractures (-0.09, CI: -0.15, -0.03; adjusted for bone mineral density at the trochanter, cerebrovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and etidronate use). However, in men, multivariable regression analysis did not demonstrate a significant association between iliocostal distance and the number of vertebral and non-vertebral fractures. Conclusions The examination of iliocostal distance may be a useful clinical tool for assessment of the possibility of vertebral fractures. The identification of high-risk patients is important to effectively use the growing number of available osteoporosis therapies.