Spine Glossary

Our spine glossary explains some common terms related to spine surgery and back conditions.

1. Arthritis – Inflammation of a joint usually characterized by swelling, pain, and restriction of motion.
2. Bone Plate – Usually a relatively thin metal device which is affixed to bone via screws. Bone plates are used to immobilize bones or bone fragments such that healing can occur.
3. Cervical – The neck region of the spine containing the first seven vertebrae.
4. Disc (Intervertebral) – The tough, elastic structure that is between the bodies of spinal vertebrae. The disc consists of an outer annulus fibrosus enclosing an inner nucleus pulposus.
5. End Vertebra – i. The most cephalad (i.e. toward the head) vertebra of a curve, whose superior surface tilts maximally toward the concavity of the curve. ii. The most caudad (i.e. toward the coccyx) vertebra whose inferior surface tilts maximally toward the concavity of the curve.
6. Fusion – Union or healing of bone
7. Gibbus – A sharply angular kyphosis (an abnormally excessive convex kyphotic curvature of the spine as it occurs in the cervical, thoracic and sacral regions).
8. Herniated Disc – Extrusion of part of the nucleus pulposus material through a defect in the annulus fibrosus (the outer, fibrous, ring–like portion of an intervertebral disc.).
9. Iliac Bone – A part of the pelvic bone that is above the hip joint and from which autogenous bone grafts are frequently obtained.
10. Joint – The junction or articulation of two or more bones that permits varying degrees of motion between the bones.
11. Kyphosis – An abnormal increase in the normal kyphotic curvature of the thoracic spine.
12. Laminectomy – An operation for removal of part or all of the lamina of a vertebra, commonly performed in order to be able to remove an intervertebral disc protrusion or to decompress a nerve root.
13. Medial – Situated closer to the midline of the body.
14. Nucleus Pulposus – The semi–gelatinous tissue in the center of an intervertebral disc. It is surrounded and contained by the annulus fibrosus which prevents this material from protruding outside the disc space.
15. Osteoporosis – A disorder in which bone is abnormally brittle, less dense, and is the result of a number of different diseases and abnormalities.
16. Pedicle – The part of each side of the neural arch of a vertebra. It connects the lamina with the vertebral body.
17. Rod – In spinal applications, a slender, metal implant which is used to immobilize and align the spine
18. Sciatica – A lay term indicating pain along the course of a sciatic nerve, especially noted in the back of the thigh and below the knee.
19. Scoliosis – Lateral (sideways) curvature of the spine
20. Spinal Fusion – A surgical procedure to permanently join bone by interconnecting two or more vertebrae in order to prevent motion.
21. Spinal Stenosis – Reduction in the diameter of the spinal canal due to new bone formation which may result in pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
22. Thoracic – The chest level region of the spine that is located between the cervical and lumbar vertebrae. It consists of 12 vertebrae which serve as attachment points for ribs.
23. Vertebra – One of the 33 bones of the spinal column. A cervical, thoracic, or lumbar vertebra has a cylindrically–shaped body anteriorly and a neural arch posteriorly (composed primarily of the laminae and pedicles as well as the other structures in the posterior aspect of the vertebra) that protects the spinal cord. The plural of vertebra is vertebrae.

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