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Spinous Process Fracture

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Spinous Process Fracture


A spinous process fracture is a break in a part of the spinal bone. This part of the bone is located toward the back of each spinal bone.

Cross Section of Spine.

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Spinous process fractures are caused by trauma from:

  • Falls
  • Car, motorcycle, or pedestrian accidents
  • Severe and sudden twisting or bending
  • Severe blows to the back and spine
  • Violence, such as a gunshot

Risk Factors

Older adults are at higher risk. Things that may increase the chance of a spinous process fracture are:

  • Having health problems that weaken bones, such as osteoporosis
  • Low muscle mass
  • Playing sports that involve sudden twists and turns or extreme contact
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Being around violence


Spinous process fractures can happen at any place in the spinal column. They may cause:

  • Severe pain that may be worse when moving, coughing, or breathing
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Numbness, tingling, or weak muscles
  • Problems moving the injured part of the spine
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Unstable fractures may cause damage to the spinal cord. This can result in temporary or permanent paralysis.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions will also be asked about how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will also look for nerve damage.

Pictures may be taken to look at the spine. This can be done with:


It may take weeks or months to heal. The goal of treatment is to help the bones heal properly to prevent long term problems.


Most fractures happen due to accidents. Healthy bones and muscles may help prevent injury. This may be done through diet and exercise.


Support for a spinous process fracture can include:

  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • A back brace to support the bone as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion




  • Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/fractures-of-the-thoracic-and-lumbar-spine.
  • Marek AP, Morancy JD, et al. Long-Term Functional Outcomes after Traumatic Thoracic and Lumbar Spine Fractures. Am Surg. 2018 Jan 1;84(1):20-27.
  • Spinal trauma—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/spinal-trauma-emergency-management.
  • Spinal fractures. Department of Neurology University of Florida website. Available at: http://neurosurgery.ufl.edu/patient-care/diseases-conditions/spinal-fractures.


  • Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.