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What is a transverse fracture?
Transverse fractures are a type of broken bone. Transverse fractures run horizontally perpendicular to your bone (opposite the direction of your bone). You might see them referred to as complete fractures. This means the line of the break goes all the way through your bone.
Transverse fractures usually affect long bones in your body. Some of the most common include:
- Femur (thigh).
- Tibia (shin).
- Fibula (calf).
- Humerus (upper arm).
- Radius and ulna (forearm).
- Clavicle (collarbone).
Transverse fractures are almost always caused by traumas like falls or car accidents. You might need surgery to repair your bone. Some people only need a splint or cast for the bone to heal.
How long it takes to recover fully depends on which of your bones are fractured and what caused the breaks. Most people need a few months to recover from a transverse fracture.
Transverse fractures vs. transverse process fractures
Transverse fractures and transverse process fractures are different types of bone fractures. Even though they have similar names, they’re very different injuries.
Transverse fractures occur when your bone is broken perpendicular to its length. The fracture pattern is a straight line that runs in the opposite direction of your bone. They can happen to any bone in your body, but usually affect longer bones after a trauma like a fall or accident.
Transverse process fractures are a type of spinal fracture. The transverse process is the bony projection on either side of your vertebrae (the bones that make up your spinal column). They’re usually caused by traumas like any other type of broken bone. Some transverse process fractures are caused by osteoporosis weakening your bones without you knowing. Transverse process fractures can happen along any part of your spine, but they’re most common in your lower back (your lumbar spine).
Transverse fractures vs. oblique fractures
Transverse fractures and oblique fractures are both types of bone fractures that create a straight break across your bone’s width.
Transverse fractures run horizontally perpendicular to your bone (opposite the direction of your bone). Oblique fractures are angled across your bone.
No matter which names and terms end up applied to your fracture, the most important first step is getting your injury examined by a provider as soon as possible.
How common are transverse fractures?
Transverse fractures are one of the most common kinds of broken bones, especially within long bones.
Who gets transverse fractures?
Transverse fractures can affect anyone. This is especially true because they’re caused by accidents and traumas.
If you’re at risk for falls you might be more likely to experience a transverse fracture. People with osteoporosis (weakened bones) have an increased risk for all types of broken bones, including transverse fractures.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a transverse fracture?
Symptoms of a transverse fracture include:
- Inability to move a part of your body like you usually can.
- Bruising or discoloration.
- A deformity or bump that’s not usually on your body.
Open vs. closed fractures
Your healthcare provider will classify your fracture as either open or closed. If you have an open fracture your bone breaks through your skin. Open fractures usually take longer to heal and have an increased risk of infections and other complications. Closed fractures are still serious, but your bone does not push through your skin.
Displaced transverse fractures
Displaced or non-displaced are more words your provider will use to describe your fracture. A displaced fracture means the pieces of your bone moved so much that a gap formed around the fracture when your bone broke. Non-displaced fractures are still broken bones, but the pieces weren’t moved far enough to be out of alignment during the break. Displaced fractures are much more likely to require surgery to repair.
What causes transverse fractures?
Any impact on your bones can cause a transverse fracture. Some of the most common causes include:
- Car accidents.
- Sports injuries.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are transverse fractures diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will diagnose a transverse fracture with a physical exam and imaging tests, including:
- X-rays: An X-ray will confirm any fractures and show how damaged your bones are.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Your provider might use an MRI to get a complete picture of the damage to your bones and the area around them. This will show them the tissue around your bones too. This is especially important to determine if your muscles, connective tissue and organs were injured.
- CT scan: If you need surgery, your provider or surgeon needs to know exactly how damaged your bones are. A CT scan will give them a more detailed picture of your bones and the surrounding tissue than an X-ray. You might need a CT scan if your X-rays were inconclusive or to help your surgeon plan your surgery.
Management and Treatment
How are transverse fractures treated?
How your transverse fracture is treated depends on the severity of the original break. Your broken bones need to heal back together. Depending on how damaged they are and what caused them to break, there are a few treatments your provider might use.
If your fracture is mild and the bones did not move far out of place (if it’s non-displaced), you might only need a splint or cast. Splinting usually lasts for three to five weeks. If you need a cast, it will likely be for longer, typically six to eight weeks. In both cases, you’ll likely need follow-up X-rays to make sure your bones are healing correctly.
More severe breaks require a closed reduction to set (realign) your bones. During this non-surgical procedure, your provider will physically push and pull your body on the outside to line up the broken bones inside you. To prevent you from feeling pain during the procedure you’ll receive one of the following:
- Local anesthetic to numb the area around your fracture.
- Sedatives to relax your whole body.
- General anesthesia to make you sleep through the procedure.
After the closed reduction, your provider will put you in a splint or cast.
Transverse fracture surgery
The most severe fractures require surgery. Your surgeon will realign (set) your bones to their correct position and then secure them in place so they can heal and grow back together. They usually perform what’s called an internal fixation, which means your surgeon inserts pieces of metal into your bone to hold it in place while it heals. You’ll need to limit how much you use the surgically repaired part of your body to make sure your bone can fully heal.
Internal fixation techniques include:
- Rods: A rod inserted through the center of your bone that runs from top-to-bottom.
- Plates and screws: Metal plates screwed into your bone to hold the pieces together in place.
- Pins and wires: Pins and wires hold pieces of bone in place that are too small for other fasteners. They’ll typically be used at the same time as either rods or plates.
Some people live with these pieces inserted in them forever. You might need follow-up surgeries to remove them.
Transverse fracture surgeries are usually outpatient procedures, and you should be able to go home the same day. You might need to stay in the hospital after surgery on a larger bone (like your femur).
After your surgery, the part of your body with the fractured bone in it will be immobilized. You’ll need some combination of a brace, splint or cast before you can start putting any weight on it again or using it as you did before your fracture.
What medications are used to treat transverse fractures?
Over-the-counter NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen can lead to bleeding and other complications after surgery. Your surgeon will talk to you about the medications you can take to reduce pain after your surgery.
NSAID side effects
Side effects of NSAIDs include:
- Stomach pain.
- Bowel complications.
Complications of transverse fracture treatment
Transverse fracture surgery complications include:
- Acute compartment syndrome (ACS): A build-up of pressure in your muscles may stop blood from getting to tissue, which can cause permanent muscle and nerve damage.
- Malunion: This happens when your broken bones don't line up correctly while they heal.
- Nonunion: Your bones may not grow back together fully or at all.
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis): If you have an open fracture (the bone breaks through your skin) you have an increased risk of bacterial infection.
- Other internal damage: Fractures can damage the area around the injury including your muscles, nerves, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
It might take a few weeks for your symptoms to improve. Depending on which type of surgery you had to repair your transverse fracture — and which bones were broken — you should be able to start moving again in a few weeks.
Contact your healthcare provider right away if you experience intense pain that doesn’t get better.
How can I reduce my risk for transverse fractures?
Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:
- Always wear your seatbelt.
- Wear the right protective equipment for all activities and sports.
- Make sure your home and workspace are free from clutter that could trip you or others.
- Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
- Follow a diet and exercise plan that will help you maintain good bone health.
- Talk to your provider about a bone density test if you’re older than 50 or if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
- Use your cane or walker if you have difficulty walking or an increased risk for falls.
How can I prevent a transverse fracture?
Transverse fractures are usually caused by falls or other accidents that are hard to prevent. If you need them, use a cane or walker to increase your stability and prevent falls.
Women, people assigned female at birth and adults older than 50 have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk to your provider about a bone density screening that can catch osteoporosis before it causes a fracture.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a transverse fracture?
If you have a transverse fracture, you should expect to make a full recovery.
You will need physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion in the part of your body that was injured. Most people don’t have any long-term effects after a transverse fracture.
How long does it take a transverse fracture to heal?
How long it takes you to heal depends on the severity of your fracture and which treatments you needed. Most people need a few months to recover from a transverse fracture.
There are lots of factors that can affect how long it takes your body to heal. Talk to your provider or surgeon about a timeline that fits your specific injury.
Will I need to miss work or school?
Which bones are fractured and any other injuries you experienced during your fracture will impact how long you’ll need to miss work, school and other activities.
Talk to your surgeon or healthcare provider before resuming any physical activities while you’re recovering.
When should I go to the emergency room?
If you think you have a transverse fracture — or any other broken bone — you need to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. Go to the emergency room if you experience any of the following:
- Intense pain.
- You can’t move a part of your body that you normally can.
- A part of your body is noticeably different looking or out of its usual place.
- You can see your bone through your skin.
- New bruising that appears at the same time as any of these other symptoms.
Go to the emergency room right away if you’ve experienced a trauma.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- Which bones are fractured?
- Do I have a transverse fracture or another type of break?
- Will I need surgery?
- How long will it take to recover?
- When can I resume physical activities?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You should make a full recovery after experiencing a transverse fracture, even if you need surgery to repair your bones. Make sure to go slow and follow your recovery plan as closely as possible. It can take months to get back to your usual routine and activities, but rushing your body while it’s healing can lead to complications or more damage to your fractured bone.
Ask your provider how you can keep your bones strong and healthy, and get regular bone density screenings if you’re older than 50 or have a family history of osteoporosis.
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