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Spinous Process: Function & Fracture Treatment

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  • 0:01 What Is the Spinous Process?
  • 1:03 Function of the…
  • 1:13 Spinous Process Fractures
  • 1:55 Diagnosis & Treatment
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

If you look at the term 'spinous process', hopefully you can guess that it is part of the anatomy of your spine. Continue to read this lesson to learn more about your spine, your spinous processes and how a fracture of the spinous process would be treated.

What Is the Spinous Process?

OK, so let's get technical now. You really shouldn't call it your spine; you should be calling it your vertebral column. The vertebral column is made up of about 33 bones called vertebrae. Yes, I said 'about' because not everyone has the same number of vertebrae. Some humans have 32 vertebrae, and some have 35. It all depends on how some of the bones fuse, or grow together.

The first vertebra is located at the base of the skull, and the last vertebra is located at the lowest portion of your back, usually referred to as your tailbone. Each vertebra has specific bony landmarks, a guide or groove, that serve various functions. The spinous process is one of those bony landmarks. It is on the posterior (back) side of the vertebrae.

I have an activity for you: Take your hand and put it on your back over your vertebral column. The little ridges you feel as you move up and down your spine are the spinous processes!

Function of the Spinous Process

The function of the spinous processes is to allow for muscle and ligament attachments. Muscles that attach to the spinous process are found in the neck, head and back.

Spinous Process Fractures

Believe it or not, a spinous process fracture is considered to be a minor fracture. A fracture is a break in a bone. The typical causes of a spinous process fracture are direct trauma to the vertebrae or from excessive pulling on the muscles that attach to the process. A few examples of direct trauma that could lead to a fracture of the spinous process could include being hit directly on the back, a car accident or a fall.

Spinous process fractures can produce an array of symptoms, including:

  • Back pain
  • Decreased ability to turn or bend their back
  • A 'crunch' sound when moving, bending or twisting their back
  • Numbness or tingling radiating from where the fracture occurred

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