Saturday, February 8, 2020, 21:41

The world of spine surgery has a language of its own. It is complex and rich as the issues of back problems and pain, and the treatments and surgery options to heal them.

As a precursor to discussions with healthcare professionals and reading on the subject, we recommend to keep the following glossary close by.

The world of spine surgery has a language of its own. It is complex and rich as the issues of back problems and pain, and the treatments and surgery options to heal them.

As a precursor to discussions with healthcare professionals and reading on the subject, we recommend to keep the following glossary close by.


ACDF: Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion

ALIF: Anterior lumbar interbody fusion

Annulus: The outer layer of the intervertebral disc, which is located between the vertebral bodies. The annulus is made of collagen fibers

Anterior: A term which describes the front of an object

Apophyseal Joints: Joints located in the posterior arch of the vertebral column. Also known as Facet Joints

Autograft: Bone which is taken usually from the patient's pelvis in order to fuse the spine

BMP: Bone morphogenetic protein. A copy of a protein which is normally made in the body. This protein causes bone formation and fusion

Bone Graft: Pieces of bone which are placed between the vertebrae that eventually grow together forming a spinal fusion

Bone Spur: Bony growth or rough edges of bone (a.k.a. osteophyte). Occurs commonly in the spine due to the natural aging process (osteoarthritis). Bone spurs can occasionally push on nerves causing arm and leg pain

Bone Strut: A bone graft which is placed between two vertebral bodies to give structural support and eventually cause a bone fusion

Burst Fracture: A common pattern seen in the vertebral bodies when a traumatic episode occurs and causes the bone to fracture (break)

Cage: A cylindrical metal device often made of titanium which can be placed between two vertebral bodies to provide structural support

Calcification: A process which occurs during aging where normal tissues become harder due to increased calcium content

Cauda Equina: A group of spinal nerve roots located below the spinal cord in the vertebral canal

Cervical: Refers to the neck. There are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck

Coccygeal: The lowest tip of the spine, also known as the tailbone

Corpectomy: A term which describes the removal of the vertebral body, frequently performed to remove pressure off the spinal cord

Decompression: A surgical procedure performed to relieve pressure and alleviate pain caused by the impingement of bone and/or disc material or calcified ligaments on the spinal cord or nerves.

Degenerative Disc Disease: Changes which occur in the intervertebral disc during the normal aging process, which makes the disc more brittle

Disc Bulge: A small disc herniation which can irritate a nerve, but usually does not require surgery

Disc: The cushion between each of the vertebral bodies

Disc Protrusion: A larger disc herniation which frequently pushes on nerves in the arms and legs causing pain

Disc Herniation: Occurs when a portion of the cushion between the vertebral bodies (intervertebral disc) is no longer in its normal position. The disc usually ruptures posteriorly and pushes on nerves to the arms and legs

Discectomy: The surgical removal of part or all of an intervertebral disc, performed to relieve pressure on a nerve root or the spinal cord.

Discography: An injection of contrast material into the central region of the disc. This is often followed by an x-ray or CT scan

Dura Matter: The membrane that forms the outer covering of the central nervous system

Epidural: Located on or outside of the dura mater

Excision: Removal by cutting away material, as in removing a disc.

Facet: A posterior structure of a vertebra which articulates (joins) with a facet of an adjacent vertebra to form a facet joint that allows motion in the spinal column. Each vertebra has a right and left superior (upper) facet and a right and left inferior (lower) facet.

Facet Joint: The joint on the back of the spine between two adjacent vertebrae

Foramen (Foramina, plural): The space between vertebrae where nerve roots exit to travel down the arms or legs

Foraminotomy: Surgical opening or enlargement of the bony opening traversed by a nerve root as it leaves the spinal canal, to help increase space for that nerve.

Fusion: Occurs when bone graft is placed between two vertebrae and the bones grow together. After fusion is complete, there is no motion between these 2 vertebral bodies

Hemangioma: A benign blood-filled cyst which occurs in the vertebral bodies

Instrumented: The placement of metal, screws, plates and rods in the spine

Intervertebral: The space between two spinal bones

Kyphosis: A condition in which the upper back curves forward, sometimes leading to the appearance of a hump in the back. Kyphosis may result from years of poor posture, spine fractures associated with osteoporosis, trauma or developmental problems

Lamina: The bone which is located in the posterior portion of the vertebrae

Laminectomy: Surgical removal of the rear part of a vertebra in order to gain access to the spinal cord or nerve roots, to remove tumors, to treat injuries to the spine or to relieve pressure on a nerve root. (spinal stenosis)

Laminotomy: An opening made in a lamina, to relieve pressure on the nerve roots. As opposed to laminectomy (where the entire lamina is removed), a laminotomy typically involves removal of just half the lamina (the side where a patient is having symptoms)

Lordosis: The normal backward curve which occurs in the cervical and lumbar region

Lumbar: The lowest portion of the spine. There are five lumbar vertebrae in the low back

Medial facetectomy: A procedure in which a part of the facet is removed to increase space in the spinal canal.

Microdiscectomy: The removal of a ruptured disc through a small incision with the aid of a microscope

Myelography: The injection of contrast material into the subarachnoid space. This is often followed by an x-ray or CT scan

Neoplasia: Refers to abnormal cells which are frequently due to tumors or cancer

Nerve roots: The initial portion of a spinal nerve. Tthe nerve root is an extension of the central nervous system that begins at the spinal canal and ends in the extremities (fingers, toes). Its purpose is to send sensory information from the extremity to the brain and motor commands from the brain to the extremity

Nucleus: The inner portion of the intervertebral disc

OP-1: Osteogenic Protein 1. This bone morphogenetic protein causes bone formation and fusion

Osteoporosis: Decreased bone density which occurs frequently in elderly females

Osteoarthritis: A normal aging process where spurs develop in the spine. The discs lose water content and become narrowed

Osteomyelitis: An infection of bone

Partial Discectomy: Removal of a small portion of the disc, frequently the portion which is ruptured

Paramagnetic Contrast: Material for MR imaging, also known as Gadolinium or Gad. It is used to distinguish between a disc protrusion and scarring

Pedicle: The portion on each side of the neural arch of the vertebrae which connects the lamina to the vertebral body. Frequent site of screw placement

Percutaneous: Effected, occurring or performed through the skin

Plate: Flat metal object usually made of titanium with holes for screws to be used in the front of the spine

PLIF: Posterior lumbar interbody fusion. A posterior anatomical description which refers to the back of an object

Pseudarthrosis: The movement of a bone at the location of a fracture or a fusion resulting from inadequate healing of the fracture or failure of the fusion to mature properly. This can also result from a developmental failure

Radiculopathy: or a pinched nerve in the spine, can lead to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including pain, weakness, and numbness

Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disorder which can cause softening of the bones and spinal instability

Rod: Frequently made of titanium and connects the screws in the vertebrae

Sacral: The base of the lumbar spine which connects the spine to the pelvis

Sciatica: Irritation of the sciatic nerve which is the largest nerve in the body and travels down the legs

Scoliosis: A curvature of the spine which occurs most frequently in young adolescent females

Screw: Usually made of titanium and is placed in either the front or back of the spine

Sequestered Disc Fragment: Occurs when a portion of the disc breaks off completely and pushes on the nerves to the arms or legs

Spina Bifida: A congenital problem which occurs due to incomplete formation of the back of the spine

Spinal Fluid: The clear fluid which surrounds the spinal cord and nerves in the spine

Spinal Cord: The connection between the brain stem and the nerves which allows motion and sensation

Spinous Process: The back of the spine bones; this can be felt through the skin

Spinal stenosis: Abnormal narrowing of the vertebral column that may result in pressure on the spinal cord, spinal sac or nerve roots arising from the spinal cord

Spondylitis: Inflammation of vertebrae.

Spondylolisthesis: A forward slippage of one vertebra on the other

Spondylolysis: A stress fracture of the back of the spine. Occurs in the portion of the lamina known as the "pars interarticularis."

Spondylosis: Degenerative changes of a section of the vertebra

Stenosis: Decreased space available for the nerves, usually due to arthritis

Syringomyelia: The presence of cavities in the spinal cord

Syrinx: A tubular, fluid-filled cavity in the spinal cord

Tarlov Cyst: A cerebrospinal-fluid-filled dilation, or sac, in a spinal nerve root sheath that can cause symptoms due to nerve root compression

Thecal Sac: Located in the spinal canal; it contains the cauda equina, cerebrospinal fluid and spinal cord

Thoracic: The middle portion of the spine; there are 12 thoracic vertebrae

TLIF: Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion

Transverse Process: The "wings" of the spine which are located posteriorly

Tumors: An abnormal growth of tissue which causes bone destruction.

Uninstrumented: Usually refers to a fusion with no screws, rods or plates

Vertebra: A spinal bone

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