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Key Terms


Anterior — body's front surface

Articular facet — sliding surface between two vertebrae where the bones meet

Bone graft — material from the patient's body or a natural, artificial, or synthetic substitute that replaces damaged or missing bone

Cartilage — flexible connective tissue found in joints like the knee and ankle

Cervical — related to the seven vertebrae in the neck

Chronic — slow developing, persistent, or lasting

Congenital — present from birth

Corticosteroid — medication used to stop or lessen inflammation

CT scan — three-dimensional medical imaging used to diagnose patients

Degeneration — The spine is made up of bones, or vertebra, and softer, gel-like discs. As the body ages, the discs in the spine dehydrate, or dry out, and lose their ability to act as shock absorbers. The bones and ligaments that make up the spine also become less pliable, and they thicken. As this progressive deterioration of tissue happens the discs began to pinch and put pressure on the nearby nerve roots or spinal cord. Disc degeneration is one of the most common disorders in the lower spine.

Degenerative Disc Disease — Discs are the pillow-like cushions between your vertebrae in your spine. They help your back carry weight and allow complex motions of the spine while maintaining stability. As you age, the discs can lose flexibility, elasticity, and shock absorbing characteristics. They also become thinner as they dehydrate. When all that happens, the discs change from a supple state that allows fluid movement to a stiff and rigid state that restricts your movement and causes pain.

Discectomy — Surgical removal of part or all of an intervertebral disc material placing pressure on neural elements.

Disks — elastic shock absorbers that separate the vertebrae and allow motion in the spine

Dura — A tough, fibrous membrane forming the outer covering of the spinal cord that does not adhere to the vertebrae.

Facet — A flat, plate like surface that acts as part of a joint; as seen in the vertebrae of the spine and in the subtalar joint of the ankle. Each vertebra has two superior and two inferior facets.

Fusion — Union or healing of bone.

Foraminotomy — Surgical opening or enlargement of the bony opening traversed by a nerve root as it leaves the spinal canal. A procedure carried out alone or in conjunction with disc surgery.

Herniated — when an organ or organ tissue sticks out of its containing structure, usually causing pain

Herniated Disc — The disc, which is located between the bones of the spine (vertebrae), can split or rupture. When this happens, the inner gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus) leaks out.

Hydrotherapy — hot, mineral, or massaging water treatments for pain relief

Intervertebral Disc — Cartilaginous cushion found between the vertebrae of the spinal column. It may bulge beyond the vertebral body and compress the nearby nerve root, causing pain. The terms "slipped disc," "ruptured disc," and "herniated disc" are often used interchangeably even though there are subtle differences.

Kyphosis — The outward curvature of the upper lumbar spine causing a bowing of the back, which leads to a hunchback or slouching posture.

Laminae — The flattened or arched part of the vertebral arch, forming the roof of the spinal canal. The posterior part of the spinal ring that covers the spinal cord or nerves.

Laminectomy — Excision of one or more laminae of the vertebrae. Removal of the lamina, the bony element covering the posterior portion of the spinal canal.

Ligament — band of tissue that connects bones and organs

Lordosis — The inward curvature of the cervical or lumber segments of the spine. If the curvature of the spine becomes too great then stress is placed on other parts of the spine causing pain.

Lumbar — related to the lower five vertebrae of the spine, between the ribs and hips

Myelogram — an imaging technique that uses fluorescent dye for contrast in an X-ray or CT scan

MRI — magnetic three-dimensional medical imaging used to diagnose patients

Neuromuscular — related to the nerves and muscles

Pedicle — The part of each side of the neural arch of a vertebra. It connects the lamina with the vertebral body. The first portion of the posterior spine arising from the vertebral body.

Pseudoarthrosis — When a fusion does not form.

Radicular — Pain in the extremities such as the arms and legs.

Sacrum — a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper, back part of the pelvic cavity, where it is inserted like a wedge between the two hip bones. It consists of a number of fused vertebrae.

Scoliosis — an abnormal lateral curve of the spine

Spinal nerve root — where the nerves that control motor function and give sensory input branch off from the spinal cord

Spondylolisthesis — forward slipping of a vertebra against the vertebra below it, causing pain and compression of spinal nerve roots

Stenosis — narrowing of a blood vessel or other tube in the body; spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal or foramen

Spinous Process — The portion of the vertebrae that protrudes posteriorly from the spinal column. The spinous processes create the "bumps" felt on the midline of the back. The most posterior extension of the spine arising from the laminae.

Thoracic — related to the area between the neck and abdomen, including the ribs and sternum

Upper thoracic — The first 7 of the 12 total thoracic vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae compose the middle segment of the vertebral column, between the cervical vertebrae and the lumbar vertebrae. They are intermediate in size between those of the cervical and lumbar regions; they increase in size as one proceeds down the spine, the upper vertebrae being much smaller than those in the lower part of the region. While the neck and lower back are designed to provide us with mobility, the thoracic spine is designed to be very strong and stable to allow us to stand upright and to protect the vital internal organs in the chest. They are
distinguished by the presence of facets on the sides of the bodies for articulation with the heads of the ribs, and facets on the transverse processes of all, except the eleventh and twelfth, for articulation with the tubercles of the ribs.

Vertebrae — One of the 33 bones of the spinal column.