The bones of spinal column are called vertebrae. Each vertebra has two 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 one or more of these protrusions.
Cross Section of Spine
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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 your overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster.
You will need to adjust your activities while your spine heals, but complete rest is rarely required and can actually slow recovery.
As you recover, you may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. 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 February 2010. Accessed September 30, 2014.
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. Updated August 22, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
Transverse process fracture. Sports Injury Clinic website. Available at: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/low-back-pain/transverse-process-fracture. Accessed November 6, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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