Back Pain

Glossary: Back Pain

Here are definitions of medical terms related to back pain.

Annulus fibrosis: Cartilage-like material formed in a series of rings surrounding the nucleus pulposus (soft center) of a disc.

Cauda equina: A region at the lower end of the spinal column in which nerve roots branch out in a fashion that resembles a horse’s tail.

Cervical: The neck region where the vertebrae (bones of the spine) curve forward.

Chemonucleolysis: A surgical procedure in which an enzyme is injected to dissolve a portion of the intervertebral disc.

CT scan: A sophisticated x-ray using a computer to produce a detailed cross-sectional three-dimensional picture of the bone and discs.

Discectomy: Surgical removal of part or the entire herniated intervertebral disc.

Electrical nerve stimulation: A type of physical therapy treatment that utilizes various frequencies and wave forms of electrical current, which have therapeutic effects on the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.

Electromyography (EMG): Procedure that tests nerves and muscles providing information to help determine if surgery may be required.

Herniated disc: A disc that is displaced from its position between two vertebrae, with injury to the annular ligament.

Ligament: Strong, dense structures made of connective tissue that stabilize a joint, connecting bone to bone across the joint.

Low back pain: Pain at the base of the spine that can be caused by several factors.

Lumbar: The low back region that curves forward in the same direction as the cervical spine.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Magnetic radio frequency energy used to see internal structures of the body, including bone, discs, and nerves without the use of x-rays.

Nucleus pulposus: Soft center of an intervertebral disc, made up of gel-like substance.

Osteophyte: A small, abnormal bony outgrowth.

Prolapsed disc: A disc that bulges out from its position between two vertebrae.

Ruptured disc: A disc with a torn annulus (the tough outer covering of a disc).

Sciatic nerve: The nerve that serves the legs and originates from several levels of the lower back.

Sciatica: An inflammation of the sciatic nerve usually marked by tenderness along the course of the nerve through the buttocks, thigh, and leg.

Spinal cord: The column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain to the lower back.

Spinal fusion: A process in which the disc and cartilage is removed from between the vertebrae, and bone grafts (often harvested from the pelvis) are placed between or alongside the vertebrae to join the bones together.

Stenosis: Narrowing of a portion of the spinal canal, usually because of bony overgrowth.

Tendons: White glistening fiber bands of tissue that attach muscle to bone.

Thoracic: The trunk region where the vertebral column curves in a rearward fashion.

Vertebrae: The 24 block-shaped bones that make up the vertebral column.

Vertebral column: Flexible structure that forms the “backbone” of the skeleton, arranged a straight line from the base of the skull to the tailbone; also called spine.

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