Endplate failure occurs frequently in osteoporotic vertebral fractures and may be related to the development of high tensile strain. To determine whether the highest tensile strains in the vertebra occur in the endplates, and whether such high tensile strains are associated with the material behavior of the intervertebral disc, we used micro-CT-based finite element analysis to assess tissue-level strains in 22 elderly human vertebrae (81.5±9.6 years) that were compressed through simulated intervertebral discs. In each vertebra, we compared the highest tensile and compressive strains across the different compartments: endplates, cortical shell, and trabecular bone. The influence of Poisson-type expansion of the disc on the results was determined by compressing the vertebrae a second time in which we suppressed the Poisson expansion. We found that the highest tensile strains occurred within the endplates whereas the highest compressive strains occurred within the trabecular bone. The ratio of strain to assumed tissue-level yield strain was the highest for the endplates, indicating that the endplates had the greatest risk of initial failure. Suppressing the Poisson expansion of the disc decreased the amount of highly tensile-strained tissue in the endplates by 79.4±11.3%. These results indicate that the endplates are at the greatest risk of initial failure due to the development of high tensile strains, and that such high tensile strains are associated with the Poisson expansion of the disc. We conclude that initial failure of the vertebra is associated with high tensile strains in the endplates, which in turn are influenced by the material behavior of the disc.