What is the Transverse Process?

Meshell Powell

The transverse process is a bony structure that protrudes from each side of the vertebrae, which means that there are two connected to each vertebrae of the spine. These processes are responsible for attaching muscles and ligaments to the spinal column. The general role of the structures — connecting muscles and ligaments to the spine — remains the same for each one, but the method in which it contributes to the overall functioning of the body can vary.

The transverse processes jut from either side of the vertebra.
The transverse processes jut from either side of the vertebra.

These structures project, or stick out, at the place on each vertebrae of the spine where the lamina meets the pedicle. The lamina consists of two flat plates of bone and is located on each vertebrae between the transverse and spinous processes. Together, they fuse to complete the top of the vertical arch. The pedicle is a pair of short processes that protrude backward on each side of the vertebrae in order to connect the body of the spinal vertebrae to the arch.

These views of the lumbar vertebrae of the human spine show the transverse processes clearly.
These views of the lumbar vertebrae of the human spine show the transverse processes clearly.

The role of the transverse process, as previously mentioned, is dependent on its location within the spinal column. The spine is divided into three general regions: the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Each region aids with movement of a different part of the body.

The processes located in the cervical portion of the spine connect muscles and ligaments to the small vertebrae in the neck region of the spine. In this area, they have what is known as transverse foramina, which act as passageways for the arteries that lead to the brain. Those in this area also help to support and balance the head while giving the head the ability to turn from side to side.

The transverse processes are the most prominent in the thoracic vertebrae. The ribs are attached to the thoracic vertebrae, and each one sits on top of the vertebral body and rests against the tip of the process. In this instance, they helps the articulation of the ribs.

The role of these protrusions is a bit different in the lumbar region of the spine because of the absence of ribs in this area. This is in spite of the processes still being quite large in this part of the spine. In this region, they connect more powerful muscles and ligaments to the spine, and they are responsible for the more difficult movements of the body, namely those of the hips and legs.

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Discussion Comments


I was born without one on a vertebrae in my lumbar region.


I saw the transverse processes of a cow vertebrae once. I live beside my neighbor's pasture, and apparently, he just dumps the dead cows' bodies out in the woods when they die instead of burying them.

I have four dogs, and they brought up various cow bones into my yard. Among these were several vertebrae.

I could see the transverse processes on each side. They looked like wings of bone. They were rather large, but only because the cow's spine had been huge.


@DylanB – I know what you mean. My boyfriend plays football, and I was devastated to hear that he had suffered a broken transverse process. Fortunately, though, he didn't have any nerve or organ damage.

The doctor ordered an MRI, and he could see that surgery wasn't necessary. Doctors hate to do surgery on the back if they don't absolutely have to, because it can create more problems than it solves.

As part of his transverse process fracture management, my boyfriend had to wear a back brace and take it easy for awhile. He got pain pills to help him along, and he couldn't play football for the rest of the season. I think that the pain pills also helped him cope with the sadness of being off the team.


I would imagine that having a broken transverse process would be very dangerous. I know that any spinal injuries can result in paralysis, and if a part of your vertebral column actually fractured, there could be damage to nerves and organs nearby.

My brother plays hockey, and I worry about him all the time. I know that it is a dangerous contact sport, and I would hate for him to have some sort of spinal injury and be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.


I had no idea that the hips and legs were connected to the vertebral column. I know that the spine is connected by nerves to many parts of the body, but I didn't know that muscles were physically linked to it by the transverse processes.

My sister had a lot of sciatic nerve pain that affected both her back and legs. I knew that the nerve was connected to both, but I never knew that the actual muscles were connected.

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