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Glossary of Spine Related Terms

Annulus fibrosus – The outer, fibrous, ring-like portion of an intervertebral disc.

Anterior – Referring to the front of the body.

Anterolateral – Situated or occurring in front of and to the side.

Arachnoiditis – Inflammation of the arachnoid membrane, most commonly seen within the spinal cord around the spinal cord and cauda equina.

Arthritis – Inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by swelling, pain, and restriction of motion.

Bone spur – Bony growth or rough edges of bone.

Cauda equina – The collection of nerves at the end of the spinal cord that resembles a horse’s tail.

Centrum – The body of a vertebra.

Cervical spine – The neck region of the spine containing the first seven vertebrae.

Coccyx – More commonly known as the tailbone, this is a bony structure in the region of the spine below the sacrum.

Corpectomy – A surgical procedure performed in the front of the neck that involves removal of a part of the vertebral body to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Disc (intervertebral) – A tough, elastic cushion located between the vertebrae in the spinal column; acts as a shock absorber for the vertebrae.

Disc degeneration – Degeneration or wearing out of a disc. A disc in the spine may deteriorate or wear out over time. A deteriorated disc may or may not cause pain.

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

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.

Foramen – A normal occurring opening or passage in the vertebrae of the spine through which the spinal nerve roots travel.

Foraminotomy – Surgical opening or enlargement of the bony opening traversed by a nerve root as it leaves the spinal canal, to help increase space over a nerve canal. This surgery can be done alone or together with a laminotomy.

Herniated disc – Condition in which the gelatinous core material of a disc bulges out of position and puts painful pressure on surrounding nerve roots. Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc.

Joint – The junction or articulation of two or more bones that permits varying degrees of motion between the bones

Lamina – The flattened or arched part of the vertebral arch, forming the roof of the spinal canal.

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.

Laminotomy – An opening made in a lamina, to relieve pressure on the nerve roots.

Lateral – Situated on the side, or away from the midline of the body.

Ligament – Fibrous connective tissue that links together bones at joints or between vertebrae of the spine.

Lumbago – A non-medical term signifying pain in the lumbar region.

Lumbar spine – The lower back region of the spine, which consists of five vertebrae between the ribs and the pelvis.

Nerves – Neural tissue that conducts electrical impulses (messages) from the brain and spinal cord to all other parts of the body and/or conveys sensory information from the body to the central nervous system.

Nerve roots – The initial portion of a spinal nerve; the 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 a motor commands from the brain to the extremity.

Neural arch – The bony arch of the back part of a vertebra that surrounds the spinal cord, also referred to as the vertebral arch.

Neurosurgery – The surgical specialty involved in the treatment of disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.

Osteoporosis – A disorder in which bone is abnormally brittle and less dense; may result from a number of different diseases and abnormalities. Most commonly affects elderly women.

Pedicle – The bony part of each side of the neural arch of a vertebra that connects the lamina (back part) with the vertebral body (front part).

Physical therapy – A form of treatment consisting of exercising specific parts of the body such as the back, legs, arms, hands or neck in an effort to strengthen, regain range of motion, relearn movement and/or rehabilitate the musculoskeletal system to improve function.

Posterior – The back or rear side of the body.

Rotation – Twisting movement of one vertebra on another as a patient turns from one side to the other.

Sacrum – Part of the tailbone just above the coccyx and below the lumbar spine.

Sciatica – A lay term indicating pain along the course of a sciatic nerve, especially noted in the back of the buttocks and back of the leg and thigh and below the knee.

Scoliosis – Lateral (sideways) curvature of the spine.

Spinal canal – A bony channel located in the vertebral column that protects the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Spinal cord – The longitudinal cord of nerve tissue that is enclosed in the spinal canal. It serves not only as a pathway for nerve impulses to and from the brain, but also as a center for carrying out and coordinating reflex actions independently of the brain.

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.

Spine – The flexible bone column extending from the base of the skull to the tailbone. It is made of 33 bones known as vertebrae. The spine is also referred to as the vertebral column, spinal column or backbone.

Spondylitis – Inflammation of vertebrae.

Spondylolisthesis – The forward displacement of one vertebra on another.

Spondylosis – Degenerative bone changes in the spine usually most marked at the vertebral joints.

Superior – Situated above or directed upward, toward the head of an individual.

Vertebrae – The 33 bones composing the spine. Individually referred to as a vertebra. They are divided into the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper body or rib cage), and lumbar spine (lower back), and the sacral spine (base of the spine).

Copyright, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, June 2006.

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