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The bones of spinal column are called vertebrae. Each vertebra has 2 wing-like protrusions, called a transverse process, that extend toward the sides. These protrusions provide an area for muscles and ligaments to attach to provide movement and flexibility in the back. Transverse process fractures can occur anywhere along the spinal column. They are more common in the back than the neck.
A transverse process fracture is a break or crack in 1 or more of these protrusions.
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Transverse process fractures are caused by severe trauma to the back such as:
Factors that may increase your chance of transverse process fractures include:
Activities or accidents most often associated with transverse process fractures include:
Transverse process fractures may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history as well as any accident or activity associated with the pain. . The injured area will be examined. A complete neurological exam will be done to look for damage to the nerves.
Imaging tests may be done to look for signs of damage to the bones and effects on the spinal cord. Tests may include:
Immediate care is important. Proper treatment can prevent long-term problems. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is.
Some fractures cause pieces of bones to separate. These pieces will need to be put back into their proper place. This may be done:
It may take up to 6 weeks for a transverse spinal fracture to heal. Healing time varies by age and overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster.
Activities will need to be adjusted while the spine heals, but complete rest is rarely required and can actually slow recovery.
Physical therapy or rehabilitation will be used to improve range-of-motion and strengthening the spine. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor says it is okay to do so.
Fractures are most often the result of an accident. To decrease the risk or severity of accidents:
To help reduce falling hazards at work and home:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Spinal Cord Injury Canada
Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00368. Updated September 2015. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Krueger MA, Green DA, et al. Overlooked spine injuries associated with lumbar transverse process fractures. Clin Orthop Related Res. 1996;327:191-195.
Seo MR, Park SY, et al. Spinous process fractures in osteoporotic thoracolumbar vertebral fractures. Br J Radiol. 2011;84(1007):1046-1049.
Spinal trauma—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T908630/Spinal-trauma-emergency-management. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Transverse process fracture. Sports Injury Clinic website. Available at: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/low-back-pain/transverse-process-fracture. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 7/29/2014