Glossary of Spine Terms
Medical terminology can often be confusing, since it is derived from Greek or Latin. Here is a list of commonly used terms and their meaning. We encourage you to ask questions about your diagnosis and treatment.
Anterior – front anterior refers to the approach used by the surgeon to reach the spine through the front of the the body. Cervical and Lumbar surgeries are done anteriorly.
ALIF – Anterior (from the front) Lumbar Interbody Fusion.
Allograft -a piece tissue transplanted from a bone bank to replace one that’s damaged or diseased.
Autograft – a piece of the patient’s own tissue transplanted to replace one that’s damaged or diseased.
Artificial Disc – a prosthetic devise with an elastic nucleus similar to a natural disc. See also: Artificial Disc, Artificial Disc Surgery.
A/P X-ray – X-rays taken with a frontal and back view of the patient’s spine.
Bending X-ray – X-rays are taken with the patient bending to the right and to the left. These x-rays reveal how flexible the curve is and can give some prediction of the amount of correction that can be obtained with surgery.
Bulging Disc – A bulging disc is a slight protrusion of the center of the disc (nucleus pulposus) into the spinal canal. In a bulging disc, the annulus fibrosus (outer ring) has not been ruptured.
Cell Saver – An interoperative machine used to salvage blood lost during the surgical procedure. The machine spins, washes, and filters blood, returning the red blood cells to the patient.
Cobb Measurement – Method of measuring the degree of curvature of scoliosis. See also Adolescent Scoliosis.
Cervical spine – refers to the neck; the uppermost region of the backbone, including: the first seven vertebrae, the nerve elements (spinal cord and nerve roots) inside them, and all supporting structures that join them together.
Congenital Scoliosis – scoliosis due to bony abnormalities of the spine present at birth. These anomalies are classified as failure of vertebral formation and/or failure of segmentation.
Degenerative Disc Disease – Degenerative Disc Disease refers to the loss of loss of hydration in the disc and weakening of the annulus(outer lining of the disc). Trauma can cause the annulus to tear and disc material leaks out and presses on a nerve.
Degenerative disc disease is very common in the human population but is not always symptomatic.
Discectomy – the cutting out (-ectomy) of an intervertebral disc.
Graft – a piece of tissue transplanted to replace one that’s damaged or diseased; in this case, a bone graft may be used to fill the emptied intervertebral disc space.
Hemangioma – A hemangioma is a benign tumor usually found in the thoracic area of the spine. Some patients with hemangioma are asymptomatic, others will report pain at the vertebral level effected by the hemangioma.
Herniated disc – the rupture of the center of an intervertebral disc through its fibrous outer ring and causes compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots; also called ruptured disc or (incorrectly) slipped disc. See also Herniated Disc.
Idiopathic Scoliosis – three dimensional deformity where the twisting of the spine is coupled with curvature producing deformity in both coronal and sagittal (side view) planes.
Kyphosis – Kyphosis is an abnormal increase in normal kyphotic (posterior) curvature of the thoracic spine which can result in a noticeable round back deformity.
Laminectomy – performed to relieve pressure on one or more nerve roots. The term is derived from lamina (part of the spinal canal’s bony roof), and -ectomy (removal).
Lateral X-ray – An X-ray taken from the side.
Levoscoliosis – main curve of the spine is curved to the left side of the body.
Lordosis – is the abnormal increase in normal lordotic (anterior) curvature of the lumbar spine. This can lead to a noticeable “sway-back” appearance.
Lumbar Spine – refers to the low back; the region of the backbone, including: the five vertebrae L1-L5, the nerve elements (spinal cord and nerve roots) inside them, and all supporting structures that join them together.
Osteoid Osteomas – a benign cancer usually found in adolescents. Patients usually present with a complaint of severe pain. The treatment plan often includes a CT scan, anti-inflammatory medication, and surgery.
Osteophytes – Osteophytes or bone spurs, are bony overgrowth at the edge of the joint possibly as a result of arthritis. This boney overgrowth can impinge nerves in the spinal canal, and cause pain.
Posterior – back; posterior refers to the approach used by the surgeon to reach the spine through the back of the the body.
Radiculopathy- Nerve pain in the leg or arm which may be amenable to local treatments such as steroid blocks.
Risser Sign- A pelvic x-ray is taken of a child to determine the skeletal maturity. There is a creasant shape bone development that is classified on a scale of 1 to 5; 5 being mature.
Rotoscoliosis – main curve of the spine is curved to the left side of the body.
Sciatica – Term for symptoms such as tingling, numbness, burning along the branches of the Sciatic nerve. These areas include the buttocks, back of the legs, to the ankle and foot.
Scoliosis- a lateral (sideways) curvature of the spine.
Spinal Balance – In any spinal procedure, it is essential that the surgeon maintain the natural curvature of your spine.
Spinal Cord Monitoring- During surgery the physician monitors the integrity of the spinal cord. The machine used monitors somatosensory evoked potentials (SEP).
Syrnix – Collection of fluid in the spinal cord.
Thoracic Spine – refers to the midback; the region of the backbone, including: the twelve vertebrae T1-T12, the nerve elements (spinal cord and nerve roots) inside them, and all supporting structures that join them together
Thoracoplasty – Removal of a rib during scoliosis surgery.
Whiplash – Whiplash refers to a sprain or strain of the muscles in the neck. This occurs when there is a sudden flexion and extension of the neck.