The Southeastern Spine Institute

Glossary of Medical Definitions

The Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI) wants you to understand what you need to know about your back and spine. We’ve compiled a list of the medical terms we use when talking about back care in Charleston. Find the short, easy-to-understand medical definitions we’ve provided for you as part of our patient education program. Italicized words have separate entries.

Medical Terms and Spine Definitions

Transplanting an organ or tissue from one person to another. In terms of your spine, this usually refers to a bone graft procured from a bone bank or donor.

In the front; pertaining to or toward the front plane of your body, the opposite of posterior.

Transplanting an organ or tissue from one part of your body to another. In terms of your spine, this usually refers to a bone graft taken from your hip.

Board Certified Surgeons
To make sure you get the best care at SSI, all our surgeons are board certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery or the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, depending on their specialty.

Bone Grafts
See Allograft and Autograft.

Bone Spurs
Also called osteophytes, they are bony projections that can develop on the bones of your spine caused by injury, age, or illness. Often benign, they can be removed if they compress spinal nerves.

A narrow tube or needle that is inserted into your body for medical purposes: to drain fluid, to insert medication, or to allow medical instruments access to hard-to-reach places, such as your spine.

Of or relating to your neck, which is comprised of seven cervical vertebrae. At SSI, a cervical bone refers to a spinal bone in your neck.

Basically, a pain in your neck, cervicalgia is localized pain that can be caused by muscle tension, or it can point to a more serious problem.

This funny-looking word refers to your tailbone. It’s a small bone connected to the sacrum, made up of four fused rudimentary vertebrae.

A surgical procedure in which a vertebral bone in your spine is completely, or nearly completely, removed and replaced with a bone graft. See allograft and autograft.

A surgical procedure in which one or more injured or diseased discs is removed. Often, a bone graft replaces the disc. See allograft and autograft.

The relatively soft and spongy structural material between each of your vertebral bones. Discs provide impact resistance (like a shock absorber) while holding the spinal bones in place. A disc is composed of a gelatinous center surrounded by a tough fibrous outer ring or wall.

With respect to your back, an electrothermal treatment uses electrically generated heat to kill, fuse, or cauterize injured or diseased cells, usually in your spine.

Facet Joint
Paired joints that attach the rear part of one vertebrae to those above and below it.

A technological advance that allows surgeons to virtually see inside your body with real-time X-rays. Fluoroscopy guides a surgeon’s hands in some surgeries.

A foramen is an organic passage into or through one of your bones. The space inside your spine, through which your spinal cord passes, is a foramen. Foramina is the plural.

Foraminal Stenosis
A condition describing the shrinking or narrowing of the opening for your spinal nerves. This painful condition often affects the nerve roots leaving your spinal column.

A surgical procedure to widen the opening in your spine so that your nerve roots are not compressed. See also foramen/foramina.

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that locks multiple bones in your spine together permanently, often with a metal plate. While fusion restricts movement, it supports and reinforces the bones. A fusion also refers to the way bone grafts knit together with the vertebrae above and below to form a new bone mass.

Herniated Disc
A diseased or injured disc in your spine that has slipped, bulged, ruptured or broken open. Often, surgery is required to repair or replace the disc.

Between the pointed bones of your spine. Between the spinous processes of your vertebrae.

Intervertebral Disc
See Disc.

Into a disc of your spine, as relating to an injection or electrothermal treatment.

Pertaining to a structure or substance within a sheath, such as within your spinal canal. Introducing into or occurring within the space under the membrane covering your spinal cord.

A minimally invasive surgical procedure to treat spine fractures. A kyphoplasty relieves pain and stabilizes your spine, while restoring your height.

A cervical surgery to open or increase the space for your spinal cord and nerves. It has advantages over a cervical corpectomy and fusion, but requires an otherwise healthy spine.

The back portion of a vertebral bone that covers your spinal canal. It is located beneath the spinous process.

A surgical procedure to remove the back part of your vertebra, called the lamina. The procedure enlarges your spinal canal to relieve pressure.

The tough fibrous tissues that attach your bones together. Ligaments provide joint stability.

Referring to your lower back. It’s the area approximately six inches below your shoulder blades, where your spine curves in toward your abdomen. There are five lumbar vertebrae.

A compression of your spinal cord, usually by a bone spur or herniated disc. This condition often causes severe pain, as well as weakness and/or numbness of your extremities.

Nerve Root
A main nerve branch off your spinal cord. Nerve roots leave the spine through openings between the vertebraearound the level of the discs.

Pain Management
The pharmacological, surgical, alternative or other treatments that prevent, lessen or eliminate pain. These conservative care options do nothing to remove the cause of pain.

Physical Therapy (PT)
Therapeutic exercises, often performed after surgery, to build back muscle strength and encourage healing. SSI has PT facilities on site.

In the back; pertaining to or toward the rear plane of your body. The opposite of anterior.

Ruptured Disc
A specific type of herniated disc, this term refers to a spinal disc with a wall that has lost its integrity, allowing the disc nucleus to spill out. It is a painful injury.

Sacroiliac Joint
The point at which your sacral spine attaches to your pelvis. See also Sacrum.

The area of your spine that connects the spine to your pelvis. It is comprised of five vertebrae that are fused together.

Pain that radiates from your lower back to your leg (usually one or the other). The most common cause is a herniated disk or a bone spur on your spine.

A condition that causes a normally straight spine to curve sideways. Early detection helps, and braces can help the bones grow correctly.

Spinal Cord
The nerve tissue that extends from your brain, protected by your spine. The spinal cord carries information between your body and your brain via the nerve roots.

Spinal Stenosis
A medical condition in which new bone or soft tissue has grown from your vertebrae into your spinal canal, reducing the space for your spinal cord, sometimes pinching your nerve roots.

The part of your skeleton that extends from the base of your skull to your pelvis. It acts as the main support for your body and protects your spinal cord. Composed of alternating vertebrae and discs, it’s divided into five areas: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum and the coccyx.

Spinous Process
The pointed, backward-facing projections of your vertebra bones. It’s what you feel if you run your hands down your spine. Ligaments and muscles attach to your spine here.

The condition known as a “slipped disc,” in which one of the bones of your spine has slipped out of position and is rubbing against the disc below it, causing significant pain.

The tough fibrous tissue that attaches muscles to your bones.

Therapeutic Exercise
Strengthening exercises that include core stabilization and stretching. If you have had invasive surgery or long periods of inactivity, these exercises help you get back on your feet.

The area of the spine that supports your rib cage. There are 12 thoracic vertebrae in your spine.

The bony segments of your spine. One unit includes the spinous process and the lamina, and is called a vertebra.