Transverse Process Related Pain

The transverse process, a small but significant part of each vertebra, plays a crucial role in the musculoskeletal system. It serves as an attachment site for muscles and ligaments, contributing to spinal stability and movement. However, various conditions can cause pain related to the transverse processes. This article explores the anatomy of the transverse process, associated muscles, clinical conditions, diagnostic approaches, and advanced interventional treatments.

Anatomy of the Transverse Process

The transverse processes are bony protrusions extending laterally from each side of the vertebral arch. Each vertebra has two transverse processes, which serve multiple purposes:

  • Muscle and Ligament Attachment: Provide attachment sites for muscles and ligaments that stabilize and move the spine.
  • Leverage for Movement: Act as levers to facilitate the action of spinal muscles, aiding in movements such as rotation and lateral flexion.
  • Protection of Spinal Nerves: Help protect spinal nerves as they exit the vertebral column.

Muscles Attached to Transverse Processes

Paraspinal muscles as erector spinae or back muscular system outline diagram. Labeled educational vertebrae movement and support anatomy vector illustration. Spinal and torso backview detailed model.

Several important muscles attach to the transverse processes, including:

  1. Erector Spinae Muscles: These muscles, including the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis, extend and laterally flex the spine.
  2. Multifidus: Stabilizes the vertebrae during local movements of the vertebral column.
  3. Levator Scapulae: Elevates the scapula and assists in neck rotation.
  4. Intertransversarii Muscles: Aid in lateral flexion and stabilization of the vertebral column.
  5. Rotatores: Assist in rotation and proprioception of the spine.

Painful Clinical Conditions Related to Transverse Processes

Pain involving the transverse processes can arise from various conditions, including:

  1. Fractures: Resulting from trauma, such as falls or car accidents, transverse process fractures can cause localized pain and muscle spasms.
  2. Muscle Strain: Overuse or injury to the muscles attached to the transverse processes can lead to significant pain and stiffness.
  3. Facet Joint Syndrome: Degeneration or injury to the facet joints, which are near the transverse processes, can cause referred pain.
  4. Osteoarthritis: Degenerative changes in the vertebrae can impact the transverse processes, leading to pain and reduced mobility.
  5. Spinal Infections: Infections like osteomyelitis can affect the transverse processes, causing severe pain and systemic symptoms.

Work-Up and Diagnosis

Diagnosing pain related to the transverse processes involves a comprehensive approach:

  1. Clinical Examination: Includes a detailed patient history and physical examination to assess pain patterns, range of motion, and neurological function.
  2. Imaging Studies:
    • X-Rays: Useful for detecting fractures and bony abnormalities.
    • MRI: Provides detailed images of soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, and any potential inflammatory processes.
    • CT Scans: Offer a detailed view of bony structures, particularly useful for identifying complex fractures.
  3. Bone Scintigraphy: Can help detect areas of increased bone activity, indicating inflammation or infection.

Treatment Options

Treatment for conditions affecting the transverse processes ranges from conservative approaches to advanced interventional modalities. The choice of treatment depends on the specific condition and its severity.

Interventional Treatment Modalities

  1. Corticosteroid Injections: Injections near the affected transverse processes can reduce inflammation and provide significant pain relief. These are often guided by imaging to ensure precise delivery.
  2. Trigger Point Injections: Useful for muscle strain-related pain, these injections target specific painful areas within the muscles attached to the transverse processes, providing relief by reducing muscle spasms and inflammation.
  3. Facet Joint Injections: When facet joint syndrome is suspected, injections into the facet joints can reduce inflammation and pain. This procedure is often followed by RFA for longer-lasting results.
  4. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA): This minimally invasive procedure uses radiofrequency energy to disrupt pain signals from the nerves around the transverse processes, providing longer-term relief, especially in cases of facet joint syndrome.


Pain related to the transverse processes can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life and daily activities. Accurate diagnosis through clinical evaluation and imaging is essential for effective management. While conservative treatments are beneficial for many, interventional modalities offer advanced solutions for those with persistent or severe symptoms. By addressing the underlying pathology and employing targeted treatments, healthcare providers can help patients achieve relief and improve their overall well-being.


  1. Bogduk N. “Clinical Anatomy of the Lumbar Spine and Sacrum.” Elsevier Health Sciences. 2005.
  2. Manchikanti L, Boswell MV, Singh V, et al. “Comprehensive review of therapeutic interventions in managing chronic spinal pain.” Pain Physician. 2009.
  3. Deyo RA, Mirza SK, Martin BI. “Back pain prevalence and visit rates: estimates from U.S. national surveys, 2002.” Spine. 2006.
  4. Chou R, Qaseem A, Snow V, et al. “Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 2007.
  5. Friedly JL, Comstock BA, Turner JA, et al. “Long-term effects of repeated injections of local anesthetic with or without corticosteroid for lumbar spinal stenosis: a randomized trial.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2017.

These references provide further insights into the anatomy, clinical conditions, and advanced treatment modalities for pain related to the transverse processes.

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