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In Street Clothes

Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Understanding Mike Conley’s Fractured Transverse Process

After enduring a year marred by injury, the Memphis Grizzlies once again find themselves managing a flurry of injuries. Offseason acquisition Chandler Parsons is currently sidelined with a bone contusion in his left knee after missing the first six games recovering from offseason surgery on the opposite knee. Big man Brandan Wright is currently recovering from left ankle surgery while James Ennis sits with a Grade 2 calf strain. The injury news worsened on Tuesday as reports began to surface that point guard Mike Conley suffered a fracture in his back during Monday’s loss to the Hornets.

Specifically Conley suffered at least one transverse process fracture to one of the vertebrae in his lumbar spine with Michael Wallace reporting multiple fractures. While a broken back shouldn’t be taken lightly, the injury isn’t quite as severe as it sounds.

Each vertebra of the spine consists of multiple bony projections, including the transverse processes on each side. These projections aid in movement, serve as an attachment site for various ligaments and muscles, and protect the area from trauma. While Conley did suffer a fracture, his injured transverse process did its job to perfection, absorbing the impact of Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and protecting his spinal cord and intervertebral discs from significant damage.


The exact lumbar vertebrae Conley injured have not been revealed though the location of the injury could play a role in his recovery. For example, the transverse processes of the L3 vertebrae serve as an anchor point for the psoas major muscle, a muscle primarily responsible for hip flexion and a component of hip rotation and forward bending of the spine. As a result, a fracture here could limit both back and hip function.

While the location remains undisclosed, Conley is not expected to require surgery. Instead he will spend the next few weeks allowing the bone to mend. Early reports state he will be reevaluated in a month and will likely miss six weeks recuperating.

History suggests a quicker return to action is possible. Transverse process fractures in the NBA are not unheard of with multiple players including Jason Thompson and Hedo Turkoglu suffering the injury in recent seasons. These players, along with others, missed an average of 6.5 games or roughly two to three weeks. A cross-sport comparison also suggests a quicker recovery time with NFL quarterbacks Tony Romo and Cam Newton each returning to action two weeks after sustaining the injury during the 2014 season. Still every injury is, and should be, handled on an individual basis and look for the respected Memphis medical staff to provide Conley with ample time to recover.