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Spine Glossary


Abscess: a collection of bacteria surrounded by inflammatory fluid.

Acute: a condition which came on suddenly and may be severe.

Adult Scoliosis: an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine which developed after adolescence.

Allograft: sterile cadaver bone which is often used for spine fusions.

Analgesia: absence of pain.

Anesthesia: loss of consciousness or sensation for the purposes of performing surgery.

Anesthesiologist: a physician who provides Anesthesia for the purposes of surgery

Annulus Fibrosus: the outer ring of the human disc, made up of cartilage like fibers.

Anterior: the front.

Anterior-Lateral: to the front and off to the side.

Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion (ACDF): A surgical procedure performed in the neck where the disc is removed to relieve the pressure on a nerve or the spinal cord. Bone of bone-like material is then placed in lieu of the disc to promote a bone fusion between the vertebrae.

Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF): A surgical procedure where a disc in the low back is removed by approaching it through the abdomen. Bone or bone-like material is then placed in lieu of the disc to promote a bone fusion between the vertebrae.

Arachnoid: thin membrane which covers the spinal cord and brain.

Arachnoiditis: chronic inflammation of the arachnoid membrane.

Arthritis: inflammation of joints in the body.

Arthrodesis: a bone fusion.

Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR): A surgical procedure which removes a diseased disc and replaces it with an artificial man-made one.

Atlas: top vertebra in the neck.

Atrophy: loss of muscle mass in the body.

Autograft: bone taken from one part of the body to be used in a fusion of a different part of the body.

Axis: second vertebra in the neck.


Backbone: spine, vertebral column.

Benign: not cancerous

Biopsy: a piece of bone or tissue

Bone Morphogenic Protein (BMP): a protein found in the body which accelerates bone growth and bone fusions

Bone graft: bone which is taken from one part of the body and placed into another.

Bone graft substitute: synthetic bone-like material which is used in lieu of human bone

Bone Growth Stimulator: A device which uses electromagnetic energy to stimulate bone growth


Cancellous Bone: soft bone found on the interior of the vertebrae

Cartilage: thin layer of tissue which often covers the surfaces of joints

Cauda Equina: the nerves at the end of the spinal cord which project downward in the spinal canal.

Cauda Equina Syndrome: A neurological syndrome which results from compression of the cauda equina. Patients often have loss of bowel and bladder control, numbness and weakness in the legs. Numbness in also often present in the area of our body which we sit on (saddle anesthesia).

Cervical-Collar (C-Collar): neck brace

Cervical: area of the spine located in the neck

Chemonucleolysis: a disc procedure where chymopapain is injected into the disc. Chymopapain can dissolve disc tissue, potentially reducing the size of the disc.

Chronic: persistent state, often present for more than 3-6 months.

Cobb Angle: a measurement of an angle between the vertebrae which can give an indication of an abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis).

Coccyx: the area of the spine located at the very end of the tailbone.

Coccygectomy: removal of all or a portion of the coccyx bone at the end of the spine.

Collagen: fibrous material which makes up tendons, ligaments and the disc.

Compression: pressure on spinal structures such as the spinal nerves and spinal cord. Also used to describe certain types of fractures of the body of a vertebra.

Congenital: present since birth.

Contrast: fluid material which can help show certain conditions on imaging studies such as CT scans and MRI scans.

Corpectomy: surgical procedure where a portion of the body of the Vertebra is removed.

Cortical Bone: harder, outer layer of bone.

Cox-2 Inhibitor: anti-inflammatory medication which inhibits a specific enzyme, Cyclooxygenase-2. This inhibits the body’s ability to produce inflammation.

Cerebrospinal Fluid: fluid which bathes the brain, spinal cord, and spinal nerves.

Computerized Tomography (CT): an imaging test which uses radiation to image parts of the body. Slices of specific parts of the body are made which can create a three-dimensional picture of the anatomy.


Decompression: to remove pressure on a spinal nerve or the spinal cord.

Degenerative Disc Disease: gradual loss of the function of the disc through wear and tear.

Demineralized Bone Matrix (DBM): cadaver bone, which has been processed to remove the minerals from the bone. DBM is used to help bone fusions.

Dermatome: the area of the body covered by one nerve

Disc: the cushion between the bodies of the vertebrae. It is made up of a core (nucleus pulposus) and an outer ring (annulus fibrosus) which supports it.

Discectomy: surgical removal of part of a disc

Discitis: infection of a disc.

Discogram: a study where dye is injected into a disc for diagnosis.

Dura: a membrane which covers the brain, spinal cord and spinal fluid.

Dysphagia: difficulty swallowing.


Edema: swelling

Electromyogram (EMG): a nerve test which tests the response of muscles to nerve stimulation.

Endoscopic Discectomy: using a fiberoptic tube to remove parts of a spinal disc.

Epidural space: the space outside the lining of the spinal cord and spinal fluid.

Epidural Steroid Injection: a spine injection where steroid medication is delivered into the space outside of the lining of the spinal cord and spinal fluid.

Epidural Abscess: an infection of the epidural space.

Epidural Hematoma: bleeding inside the epidural space

Extrusion: a type of disc herniation where material has pushed through the outer ring of the disc (annulus fibrosus), but is still in contact with the core of the disc (nucleus pulposus).


Facet Arthropathy: degeneration of the facet joint.

Facet Joint: small joint on the back of the spine which is used primarily in forward and backward bending (flexion and extension).

Facet Joint Fusion: a surgical procedure which immobilizes the joint and allows the bones to fuse together, preventing any future movement of the joint.

Facet Joint Injection: to inject medication into the facet joint for diagnosis or treatment.

Facetectomy: to surgically remove all or a portion of the facet joint.

Fibromyalgia: chronic muscle pain condition.

Fibrosis: scar formation

Flat Back Syndrome: a flattening of a normal spine curvature, straightening the spine abnormally.

Flexion: forward bending

Fluoroscopy: using an X-Ray machine which takes live pictures.

Foramen: opening between the vertebrae for the spinal nerve to leave the spine.

Foraminotomy: a surgical procedure which enlarges a foramen, thereby removing the pressure on a spinal nerve.

Fracture: a break of the bone.

Fusion: to mend bones together, thereby removing motion between them.


Hematoma: collection of blood, often forming blood clot.

Hemi: on one side

Hemilaminectomy: a surgical procedure which removes one half of the lamina bone on the back of the spine.

Herniated Disc: a spinal disc where part of the inner core (nucleus pulposus) has pushed outwards towards the spinal canal and spinal nerve supply.

Herniated Nucleus Pulposus: a spinal disc where part of the inner core (nucleus pulposus) has pushed outward towards the spinal canal and spinal nerve supply.

Heterotopic bone formation: bone which grows in an abnormal location

Hydroxyapatite (HA): bone crystals composed of Calcium and Phosphorus which help provide a rigid bone structure. HA can be used as a bone substitute material.

Hyper: more than normal.

Hyperextension: excessive backward bending.

Hyperflexion: excessive forward bending.

Hyperlordosis: an excessive backward bend of the cervical (neck) or lumbar spine (low back).


Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET): a minimally invasive spine procedure where a thin wire is placed into a diseased disc. The wire is connected to a Radiofrequency Generator which delivers targeted heat energy to the outer ring of the disc (annulus fibrosus).

Idiopathic: of unknown cause.

Iliac Crest: the top of the hip bone. Often a site where bone is harvested from as a bone graft.

Instrumentation: the use of implants in the spine.

Interbody: between the bodies of the vertebrae.

Interspinous Ligament: the ligament located between the spinous processes of the spine.

Intervertebral: between the Vertebrae

Intervertebral Cage: a device used between the bodies of vertebrae to promote a fusion.

Intervertebral disc: see disc

Inferior: below or underneath another structure.

Isthmic: a stress fracture of the pars interarticularis of the vertebra.


Joint: the junction between two bones which permits motion.


Kyphoplasty: a minimally invasive procedure where bone cement is injected into a collapsed Vertebra to diminish pain increase the structural integrity of the Vertebra.



Lamina: a part of a vertebra on the back of the spine, which covers the spinal canal.

Laminectomy: a surgical procedure which removes the lamina bone of the vertebra.

Laminotomy: a surgical procedure which removes a portion of the lamina bone on the back of the spine.

Lateral: off to the side, away from the center

Ligament: a band of strong fibers which connect bone

Ligamentum Flavum: a specialized ligament in the spine which connects the lamina bones of the vertebrae.

Lordosis: an area of the spine where it arches backward (neck and low back).

Lumbago: low back pain.

Lumbar: area of the spine located in the low back.



Magnetic Resonance Imaging: an imaging modality which does not use radiation. Magnetic energy is used to spine protons in the body which provides highly detailed image slices.

Malignant: cancerous.

Medial: towards the center.

Microdiscectomy: surgical procedure where a small incision and small surgical tools are used to access the spine for the purposes of removing herniated disc material.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery (MISS): a surgical procedure accomplished with small incisions and minimal trauma to the tissue.

Myelogram: an injection of dye into the spinal fluid for the purposes of visualizing the contents of the spinal canal such as spinal nerves and the spinal cord with the help of an X-Ray machine.

Myelopathy: compression of the spinal cord resulting in neurological complications such as numbness, weakness, and loss of bowel and bladder control.


Nerve Root: the beginning of a nerve after it leaves the lining of the spinal cord or spinal fluid (dura).

Neuropathy: nerve dysfunction.

Neuropathic Pain: pain due to nerve dysfunction

Neurostimulation: the use of electrical impulses to block pain signals from the spinal cord or a nerve.

Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS): class of anti-inflammatory medication which does not contain a steroid.

Nucleus Pulposus: the core of the disc.


Occiput: the back part of the skull

Opioids: narcotic medications which can diminish the perception of pain

Osteoinductive: material which can cause bone growth

Osteomyelitis: inflammation within bone due to infection.

Osteophyte: bone spur.

Osteoporosis: bone softening disease.


Paraplegia: paralysis of the lower part of the body including the legs.

Pars Interarticularis: the junction between the lamina and pedicle bones of the vertebra.

Pedicle: the part of the vertebra which connects the vertebral body to the back parts of the vertebra.

Percutaneous: through the skin.

Percutaneous Vertebral Augmentation: injection of bone cement into a collapsed vertebra (Vertebroplasty, Kyphoplasty).

Piriformis Syndrome: a spasm of the Piriformis muscle which can compress the sciatic nerve.

Poly-Methylmethacrylate: bone cement.

Posterior: the back side, i.e. backwards from the center.

Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF): a surgical fusion procedure where the spine is approached from the back.

Proximal: closest to the center.

Pseudoarthrosis: a failure of two bones to fuse, resulting in a “false joint”.


Quadriplegia: paralysis below the neck including both arms and legs.



Radiculopathy: inflammation of a spinal nerve resulting in arm or leg pain

Reflex: an involuntary reaction to a specific stimulation over a tendon or muscle.

Retrolisthesis: backward displacement of one vertebra in reference to another.

Range of Motion: the assessment of the mobility of a joint in various directions.


Sacroiliac Joint: the joint between the sacrum and pelvis.

Sacrum: tailbone with 5 fused Vertebrae.

Sciatica: pain, numbness or tingling in the distribution of the sciatic nerve in the leg.

Scoliosis: abnormal spinal curvature when viewing the spine from the back.

Spine Bifida: a congenital condition where the spinal columns fails to form completely, exposing the spinal cord or spinal nerves.

Spinal Canal: the tube within the vertebrae which accommodates the spinal cord and cauda equina.

Spinal Cord Stimulation: the use of electrical impulses to disrupt pain signals in the spinal cord.

Spinal Fusion: the mend two or more vertebrae of the spine together.

Spinal Stenosis: narrowing of the spinal canal.

Spinous Process: the part of the vertebrae projecting backwards towards the skin.

Spondylosis: degenerative bone changes of the spine.

Spondylolysis: a stress fracture of the pars interarticularis which connects the pedicle and lamina bones of the Vertebra.

Spondylolisthesis: a slippage of a vertebra with reference to on above or below.

Stenosis: Narrowing around the spinal cord or spinal nerve.


Tendon: collagen fibers which connect a muscle to bone.

Thoracic: located in the mid-section of the spine, mid-back.

Titanium: a metal often used in spine surgery as an implant.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): electrical stimulation applied to the skin overlying a muscle or nerve in order to block pain perception.

Transitional Vertebra: a vertebra which has features of a lumbar and a sacral vertebra.

Transverse Process: the part of the vertebra which protrudes outwards towards the sides.

Trigger Point Injection: an injection of medication into a painful part of a muscle.



Ultrasound Treatment: use of high frequency sound waves to produce targeted heat in a muscle or tissue.

Uncovertebral Joint: a small joint between the vertebral bodies of the neck.


Vertebrae: bones which make up the spine.

Vertebral Body: the large rectangular front portion of a vertebra.

Vertebroplasty: injection of bone cement into a collapsed Vertebrae to diminish pain and add stability.


Whiplash: neck sprain or strain.


Zygapophyseal Joint: facet joint.