Isolated multiple lumbar transverse process fractures with spinal instability: an uncommon yet serious association

Pouya Alijanipour, Dylan Greif, Nathan H Lebwohl, Joseph Gjolaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Purpose: Isolated vertebral transverse process fractures of thoracolumbar spine without other vertebral injuries and neurological deficit are generally considered as minor injuries with no concern for associated spinal instability. This report describes a case of multiple lumbar transverse fractures associated with an unexpected yet clinically significant spinal instability. Methods: A young male presented with right flank pain following being pushed and trapped against the ground by a reversing truck. The neurological examination was normal, and computed tomography (CT) imaging revealed multiple fractures at right transverse processes from L1 to L5, a single left-sided transverse process fracture at L2 and subtle facet joint distraction without other spinal lesions or visceral injuries. The injury was initially deemed as stable requiring symptomatic treatment and in-patient observation. However, discharge upright X-rays taken in a brace showed marked subluxation of L2/L3 and L3/L4 levels. Results: Magnetic resonance imaging revealed significant discoligamentous injuries involving anterior and posterior longitudinal ligaments, annulus fibrosus as well as posterior ligamentous complex. The patient underwent posterior spinal instrumentation and fusion of L1 to L5. Conclusions: This is the first case description of association of multisegmental lumbar transverse process fractures with notoriously unstable injuries of the major soft-tissue stabilizers of the spine presenting subtle changes on CT images. When a seemingly benign spinal injury is caused by high-energy trauma, careful scrutiny for associated instability is needed. In this case, the standing in-brace X-ray was able to avoid a misdiagnosis and potentially unfavourable outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

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Keywords

  • Fracture
  • Lumbar spine
  • Posterior ligamentous complex
  • Stability
  • Vertebral transverse process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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