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Medical Terms


Acute – Severe.

Allograft – Is a sterile bone graft used in spinal fusion derived from human sources. Bone taken from one individual and placed in another individual.

Analgesia – loss of pain sensation.

Anaesthesia – loss of consciousness due to the anaesthetic drugs, loss of sensation of total body part.

Anaesthetist – Physician who has specialised in anaesthetics and pain management.

AnteriorThe front.

Anterior approach – Used when approaching the spine from the front of the body.

Anterior cervical discectomy – An operation that is approached from the front of the neck that involves removing herniated disc material.

Anterior cervical decompression Fusion – An operation on the upper spine to decompress nerve roots and fuse the unstable vertebral segments.

Anterior displacement – Forward movement of a vertebral segment.

Anti-coagulant – Is a medication that thins the blood to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Arachnoid – Middle layer that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Arthralgia – Joint pain.

Arthritis – Inflammation of the joint with possible swelling, pain and stiffness.

Arthrodesis – Is the fusion of bones across a joint space. This may happen spontaneously or by means of surgical fusion.

Arthroplasty – Is the surgical remodelling of a diseased joint.

Atlas – The first cervical vertebra.

Atrophy – Is the wasting away of body tissue.

Autogenous bone – An individual’s own bone.

Autologus – Means a bone graft from and for the same individual.

Avascular – No blood vessels situated with in the structure.

Axis – The second cervical vertebrae on which the first vertebrae rotates giving the head movement.


Back ache – Any non specific pain in the back – usually in the lower part.

Backbone – Vertebral column or spine.

Benign – Is not considered to be cancerous – does not generally spread to other parts of the body.

BiopsyWhere a small piece of tissues or bone is taken for testing.

BMP – Bone morphogenic protein.

Bone – A hard calciferous material that composes the structural skeleton, provides also a framework to which muscles, ligament and tendons attach.

Bone Derivative – A substance extracted from bone.

Bone graft substitute – A material used instead of bone graft, for the purpose of increasing bone formation.

Bone graft – Bone that is taken from one area of the individual and placed in another area of the individual.

Bone harvesting – The removal of bone from one site in the body to another.

Brace – Used to aid in support or immobilization of the back.


Cancellous bone – The honeycomb like structure of the middle region of long bones.

Carotid Artery – Is a large vessel found on either side of the neck that branches into the external and internal carotid arteries. The carotid supplies the a large amount of blood to the brain.

Cartilage – The heard thin layer of tissue that covers the end of bones. It encourages movement by reducing friction at the joint.

Cauda Equina – Is a bundle of nerve roots begin at the finish of the spinal cord proper that supply the lower limbs.

Cauda Equina Syndrome – Is multiple nerve root irritation and compression causing loss of bladder and bowel function.

Cerebrospinal Fluid ( CSF ) – A clear fluid that baths the brain and spinal cord and acts as a shock absorber.

Cervical – Related to the region of the neck.

Cervical collar – A supportive band worn round the neck following injury or surgery to the cervical region.

Cervical plexus – A number of nerves that supply the neck muscles.

Cervical Decompression – Where the cervical nerve roots are freed or decompressed.

Cervical fusion – Where a determinate number of cervical vertebrae are fixated using bone screws, cages and bone plates.

Coagulation – Process of blood clotting.

Coccyx – The coccyx is a fusion of the last 4 vertebrae of the spinal column into 1 small bony structure.

Compensatory curve – A curve above or below a primary scoliosis curve. This type of curve helps the body to remain stable.

Compression – To squeeze together or to make something smaller. An example is nerve root compression where the nerve roots are squashed and irritated causing pain.

Computer Tomography (CT) – A scanning process whereby a three dimensional image of soft tissue or bone is created.

Contrast Medium – Usually a radio opaque fluid, used to define a structure during a Radiologic examination or procedure.


Decompression – Is an operation to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Degenerative Disc Disease – Gradual or rapid loss of the structural and functional integrity of the intervertebral disease.

Degenerative Stenosis – Gradual hypertrophy of bone or cartilage leading to a narrowing of vertebral margins, facet joints or vertebral canal.

Dermatome – Refers to the distribution of sensory nerves near the skin that are responsible for pain, pins and needles or numbness. In relation to the spine the dermatome corresponds to the effected vertebral level.

Discitis – Is a non bacterial inflammation of an intervertebral disc.

Distal – Is situated away from the midline of the body.


Electroencephalopgrahy ( EEG) – Is the study of the electric activity in the brain.

Epidural – Is a space directly outside the dura mata. It is referred to as extra dural.

Excision – Is the removal of tissue – to excise.

Extrusion – Displaced disc material that has herniated out to the spinal canal but remains connected to the central disc.


Facet – There is a superior and inferior facet for each vertebrae. They are flat surfaces that make up a joint when placed next to the vertebrae above and below.

Facet arthropathy – Degenerative changes to the facet joints.

Fibrosis – The replacement of normal tissue with hardened scar tissue.

Flattening of the normal lumbar curve – Where the normal lumbar curve is abnormally shallow.

Flexion – To flex or bend forward.

Foramen – A natural opening in the bone allowing for spinal nerve roots to pass from the spinal cord between the vertebrae.

Foraminotomy – Is a surgical opening or widening of the foramen.

Fracture – Is the disruption of the normal continuity of bone.

Fusion – Union or healing of bone. Also fixation or stabilization of bone ie spinal fusion.


Graft – Unattached tissue or bone for transplantation.


Hemangioma – A benign tumour consisting of a mass of blood cells.

Hematoma – A collection of blood forming a clot.

Hemi – One sided.

Hemi atrophy – Wasting of half an organ or body.

Hemi laminectomy – The excision of only one side of the lamina relative to the spinous process.

Hemiplegia – Paralysis of one side of the body.

Haemorrhage – Bleeding due to the escape of blood from the blood vessels.

Hereditary – The passing on of traits to the offspring through genetic information.

Herniation – Is a protrusion.

Hyper – Above normal, excessive.

Hyperaesthesia – Excessive sensitivity to touch, or other stimuli.

Hyperextension – Extension of a limb or back beyond it’s normal limits ( bending back).

Hyperflexion – flexion of a limb or the back beyond it’s normal limits (bending forward).

Hyperlordosis – Increase in the normal anterior curve of the cervical and lumbar spine.


Idiopathic – Is of unknown origin.

Idiopathic scoliosis – Abnormal lateral curvature of unknown origin .

Iliac crest – The large prominent part of the pelvic bone from which bone graft is often taken for fusion.

Interbody – Between the vertebral bodies of 2 adjacent vertebrae.

Interspinous ligament – Ligament between each of the spinous processes.

Interspinous pseudarthrosis – Formation of false joints between 2 spinous processes.

Intervertebral discs – See disc.

Intervertebral disc narrowing – The narrowing of space between 2 vertebral bodies.

Inferior – Situated below or directed downwards.

Informed consent – Documentation that states the patient has received sufficient information to have surgery, legal document.

Ischemia – inadequate circulation of blood to the brain.

Isthmic – A lesion in the pars interarticularis.


Joint – The junction of 2 or more bones that permits varying degrees of movement between the bones.


Kyphosis – An abnormal increase in the normal kyphotic curvature of the thoracic spine. Hump back curvature or any forward bending area or deformity of the spine.


Lamina – A flattened part of the vertebral arch that covers the spinal cord and nerves.

Laminectomy – Excision of one or more laminae of the vertebrae.

Lateral – To the side away from the midline.

Ligament – A band of fibrous, flexible connective tissue that is attached near the ends of a bone. It provides stability and limits some joint motion.

Ligamentum Flavum – A band of yellow elastic tissue that runs between the laminae of the 1 st cervical vertebrae to the sacrum serving to close the spaces between the vertebral arches and giving stability to the vertebral column.

Lipoma – A benign fatty tumour.

Lordosis – A normal forward curve in the neck and lower back.

Lumbago – Is a non medical term for lower lumbar back pain.

Lumbar – the lumbar spine is situated between the thoracic spine and the sacrum.

Lumbar curve – is a lordotic curve from 1 st and 5 th vertebrae.

Lumbar kyphosis – Is the reverse of the normal curve of the lower back.

Luxation – Dislocation


Magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) – A diagnostic test that produces a cross section of the body – defining structures within the brain and the spine .

Malignant – Cancerous, resistant to treatment.

Marginal osteophytes – Excessive bone that forms at the margin of the vertebral body- Spondylosis.

Medial – Towards the middle or midline of the body.

Minimally invasive surgery – Surgery that is conducted through a small incision.

Myelalgia – Pain from the spinal cord.

Myelapoplexy – Loss of nerve strength caused by a disorder of the spinal cord.

Myelatelia – Imperfect development of the spinal cord.

Mylogram – An x-ray of the spinal canal following an injection of a contrast into the CSF.


Nerve – A whitish cord like structure composed of one or more bundles of myelinated or non myelinated fibres.

Nerve root – The proximal end of the nerve close to the spinal cord.

Neural Arch – Bony arch that surrounds the spinal cord.

Neuralgia – Pain extending down one or more nerves.

Neuritis – Inflammation of a nerve.

Neurolysis – Excision of scar tissue from a nerve or nerve root.

Neuroma – A tumour largely made up of nerve fibres.

Neuropathic pain – Pain caused by damage to the nerve tissue that is felt as burning or stabbing.

Neuropathy – A functional disturbance to the peripheral nervous system.

Neurostimulation – Surgical placement of a wired device that is designed to block pain signals to the brain. When strategically placed either at the sight of the effected nerve or near the spinal cord the pain is transformed to a tingling sensation.

Non union – Failure of a fracture to heal or to obtain bony fusion following arthrodesis.


Occiput – The base of the skull.

Odema – A collection of fluid (swelling) usually extra cellular.

Orthopaedic – Is the medical speciality that involves the preservation, and restoration of the musculoskeletal system that includes the treatment of spinal disorders and peripheral nerve injury.

Ossification – The process of forming bone in the body.

Osteomyelitis – Inflammation of the bone due to an infective process.

Osteophyte – A bony overgrowth.

Osteoporosis – A disorder in which the bone looses it’s density and becomes “ soft”.


Pain – An unpleasant sensation associated with actual or potential tissue damage. It is felt as pain due to nerve fibres that travel from the sight of dysfunction to the brain.

Paraplegia – Paralysis of the lower extremities.

Paravertebral muscle spasm – Spasm of the muscles either side of the spinous process that can cause intense pain.

Pars Interarticulars – The superior and inferior facets are joined to each others by the “pars”.

Pathology – The study of disease.

Pedicle – The strongest part of the neural arch that joins the lamina to the vertebral body.

Physiotherapy – Exercising specific parts of the body to relearning movement, regain range of movement or rehabilitate part of the body.

Piriformis Syndrome – Is a diagnosis based on pain in the buttock leading down the back of the thigh otherwise known as sciatica.

Plexus – A network of inter joining nerves, blood vessels or lymphatic vessels.

Posterior – Towards the back of the body or the back of a structure with in the body.

Posterior fusion – Is used to describe a fusion in the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar regions that has been approached from the back.

Prosthesis – A term used to describe surgical implants used in the body.

Proximal – Nearest the centre or midline of the body.

Pseudoarthrosis – A form of non union where the fusion has formed a false joint.


Quadriplegia – Paralysis of all four limbs.


Radiculopathy Disease of the nerve roots near the spinal cord as a result of direct pressure form a disc, or inflammation of the nerve root due to disc or spinal joint disease.

Radiologist – Is a medical doctor with specialized training in the interpretation of x-rays, MRI and CT’s.

Referred painIs pain that is felt far from it’s origin for example, leg pain that originates from the lower back or shoulder tip pain from gas that is trapped under the diaphragm.

Reflex – An involuntary reaction in response to stimuli.

Retrolisthesis – Posterior displacement of vertebrae one on top of the other.

Rhizolysis – Freeing of the vertebral nerve root.


Sacral – The sacrum is the lowest five fused vertebral segments of the spinal column.

Sagittal – Means longitudinal.

Sciatica – Is a lay term that describes pain that travels from the buttock down the posterior thigh following the sciatic nerve.

Scoliosis – A lateral curvature of the spine.

Spinal Canal – The bony canal made up of the neural arch one on top of the other that encases the spinal cord.

Spinal Cord – Longitudinal cord of nerves that ends at the level of L1.

Spinal Fusion – A surgical method for stabilizing and strengthening the spinal column.

Spinal Stenosis – Denotes the narrowing of the spinal canal leading to nerve root compression .

Spine – The flexible column of 33 bones that are called vertebrae.

Spinous Process – Is the part of the neural arch that protrudes posteriorly and can be felt under the skin.

SpondylitisInflammation of the vertebrae.

Spondylolisthesis – Varying degrees posterior or inferior vertebral displacement. This can be as a result of degeneration, genetics or trauma.

Spondylolysis – A defect in the neural arch between the superior and inferior facets. This does not necessarily indicate vertebral displacement.

Spondylosis Degenerative bony replacement of ligament around the disc space. This can lead to a decrease in mobility and eventual fusion.

Stenosis – Reduction in the diameter of the spinal canal or lateral foramen, causing pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.


Tendon – Made up primarily of collagen, is a fibrous band of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Tension – An act of stretching or pulling tight.

Thoracic – The region of the spine at the level of the chest.

Thrombus – A blood clot that is attached to the wall of an artery.

Tissue – A collection of similar type of cells that make up a structure.

Titanium – A metallic element that is used in surgical implants.

Traction – A pulling force on a limb or spinal column in a distal direction.

Transitional Vertebrae – A vertebrae that has elements of two types of vertebrae. For example the fifth lumbar vertebrae which has partial sacral components.

Transverse – Crosswise, lying across the long axis of the body or body part.

Transverse process – A bony process that extends out from the mid portion of the neural arch, giving rise to the arms of the cross.


Ultrasound – The use of High frequency sound waves to create visuals of the internal body structures.

Uncovertebral – Pertaining to the uncinate processes of the vertebrae.

Uni – One side as in unilateral.

Union – The coming together of tissue separated by injury or the knitting together of bone in a fusion.

Ureter – 16 to 18 inch tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder.


Vagus Nerve – Is the tenth cranial nerve responsible for both sensory and motor function. Situated in the neck along side the carotid artery.

Vascular – Related to or containing blood vessels.

Vertebra Is one of 33 bones that make up the spinal column that protects the spinal cord and gives the body’s trunk stability.

Vertebral body – This is the main rectangular portion of the vertebra.


Whiplash – A common term used to describe hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck.

Wire – A metal thread available in various diameters to aid in fixation of fractures and fusion surgery


X-Ray – Ionizing electromagnetic radiation emitted from an evacuated tube towards a target anode. This produces clear images of bone inside the body.

Xylocaine – A type of local anaesthetic also known as lignocaine.


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