Back Pain Glossary Of Medical Terms
Acute back pain: A type back pain that lasts less than three to six months. It can occur suddenly and may be the result of an injury or illness.
Analgesics: Medications that relive pain. Includes over-the-counter and prescription pain medication.
Block: An injection of pain medication that prevents a nerve from continuing to send pain signals to part of the body. A block can be permanent or temporary.
Bone graft: A way to rebuild bony structures using bone from another portion of the body or another person, or from synthetic materials.
Cervical vertebrae: The seven vertebrae that support the neck, referred to individually by numbers: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7.
Chronic back pain: A type of lingering back pain that continues for more than three to six months.
Coccyx: A series of small fused vertebrae that make up the tail end of the spine.
Decompression: The removal of pressure on a nerve or the spinal cord through Back Surgery.
Degenerative Disc Disease: Refers to breakdown of the intervertebral discs — the fibrocartilage spacers between vertebrae.
The discs consist of two layers: a tough, fibrous outer ring or cylinder (annulus fibrosus) and a gelatinous core (nucleus pulposus). A disc is like a jelly donut, only sealed at top and bottom to neighboring vertebrae.
Disc breakdown may range from mild disc bulge, to more severe disc bulge (herniation), to rupture of the disc with extrusion of disc material, to conversion of the disc into bone (fusion). Disc breakdown may occur anywhere in the spine, including the neck.
While defined as a disease, Degenerative Disc Disease is no more a disease than a blowout of an overloaded tire is a disease of the tire. The breakdown comes from mechanical causes — overcompression.
Tight muscles of the back (the spinal extensors) pull neighboring vertebrae together, compressing the discs in between. Over time, the combination of overcompression and movement causes discs to break down.
Disc: The pad of tissue between two vertebrae that cushions the vertebra and allows the spine to be flexible.
Disc replacement: Surgical removal and replacement of a damaged disk.
Disc Tear or Torn Disc: A consequence of violent injury, disc tear may appear symptomatically similar to a bulging disc but cannot be treated effectively by muscular retraining, traction, massage or other non-invasive techniques because the muscular contractions are protective in nature. The muscular contractions are stabilizing a length of spinal column that has lost its structural support.
A torn disc is a surgical situation. While surgery may restore stability to the spine, it may leave residual muscular contractions that must be addressed for recovery (and alleviation of symptoms) to be complete. Somatic education addresses such unaddressed muscular contractions.
Epidural space: The area between the bone and the membrane enclosing the brain and spinal cord. “Epidural” is often used to describe an injection of pain medication into the epidural space.
Fusion: A surgical procedure in which vertebrae are joined together for greater stability.
Herniated (Bulging/”slipped”) Disc: A sign of of disc overcompression, discs herniate when overcontracted back muscles tighten along the spine and pull vertebrae too closely together for a long time. The pressure causes the jelly center to push against the containing outer cylinder of the disc (annulus fibrosus). This pressure causes bulging, much as overpressure on an overloaded tire causes the tire to bulge — or imagine what happens if you squeeze a jelly donut.
Over time, the disc may break down under the pressure and the bulge increases, sometimes to the point of rupture, and at other times, to the point of weakening the disc wall.
Implantable drug delivery systems: Pumps that can be surgically implanted to deliver medications into the spinal canal in order to control pain.
Kyphoplasty: A procedure normally used to fix a vertebral compression fracture. A small balloon is injected into the damaged bone; the balloon is blown up, forcing the damaged bone into its rightful shape. A synthetic bone filler (or cement) is then injected into that space for stability.
Ligaments: Tough bands of tissue that hold bones together in joints.
Lumbar vertebrae: The five vertebrae in the lower back.
Muscle relaxants: Medications that help control and release muscle spasms.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter and prescription medications used to treat pain and reduce inflammation.
Opioids or opiates: Prescription pain medications such as morphine that control the perception of pain by binding to certain receptors in the central nervous system.
Recurrent back pain: Back pain that lasts for a while, goes away, and then returns.
Relaxation therapy: Learned techniques to help relax the mind and body, which may be used to help ease back pain.
Ruptured Disc: A common end-point of disc herniation left untreated, a disc rupture extrudes the pulpy center of the disc (nucleus pulposus) out of the disc into the surrounding space outside the disc, like toothpaste out of a tube. The extruded disc material may then press upon nerve roots, causing pain.
A ruptured disc is generally a surgical situation. (Think “getting toothpaste back into the tube.”) One minimally-invasive surgical procedure involves aspirating (sucking out) the extruded disc material.
While the procedure may relieve pressure on nerve roots, it leaves the muscular contractions underlying the problem unaddressed. Somatic education handles muscular contractions.
Scoliosis: Abnormal curvature of the spine. While a normal spine exhibits curves and the natural curvability that allow flexibility, some people exhibit spinal curvatures that interfere with normal movement and distort posture.
Scoliosis has been classified into several categories that describe type of curvature and degree of severity. Without going into detail about the varieties of scoliosis, it can be said in general that scoliosis can be classified into “structural” and “functional” types. Structural scoliosis involves distortions of bone growth. While not correctible by non-surgical means, some procedures can improve comfort and mobility within the limits of the scoliosis. Functional scoliosis arises from muscular pulls that may arise from injury and subsequent casting of an extremity. It is often correctible by non-surgical means (see below).
Common medical treatments for scoliosis involves casting, the wearing of a brace, insertion of metal rods along the spine, or spinal fusion surgery.
Spinal cord stimulators: Devices that use electrical signals to help manage back pain. Spinal cord stimulators may be outside the body or implanted in the body, much like pacemakers.
Spinal fluid: Also known as cerebrospinal fluid (CFS), this is the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain.
Spinal Fusion: A surgical procedure, spinal fusion is a man-made way of recreating a natural end-process of disc breakdown: the growth of bone to replace degenerated discs. In the procedure, the ridges (spinous processes) and rear wall (laminae) of vertebrae are surgically removed (laminectomy), the disc or discs removed, bony material (generally the size and shape of matchsticks) placed to grow over the surgical wound, and the patient placed in a torso cast. The result is a rigid spine incapable of its normal flexibility, but stabilized to prevent nerve impingement. Pain sometimes remains due to reflexive muscular contractions at the surgical site.
Spinal manipulation: Spinal treatments, either using a device or the hands, that are intended to realign the spine and other elements that contribute to pain. Also called an adjustment.
Spine: The stabilizing structure of the body that runs up the back and is made up of bones called vertebrae, ligaments, disks, and nerves.
Spinal Subluxations: The term, originating in Chiropractic, refers to misalignments of neighboring vertebrae. Such misalignments adversely affect posture, movement, and organ function by affecting nerve signal transmission.
Bones go where muscles pull them. Abnormal (habituated) tensions in the spinal muscles pull vertebrae out of alignment. As muscular functioning normalizes, spinal alignment usually normalizes spontaneously.
Without normalization of muscular functioning, spinal misalignments tend to return; with normalization of muscular functioning, chiropractic adjustments, if needed, tend to be long-lasting and are needed less often, if ever.
Tendons: Tough bands of tissue holding muscle to bone.
Thoracic vertebrae: The 12 vertebrae between the neck (cervical) vertebrae and the lower back (lumbar) vertebrae.
Traction: Use of a harness or table to stretch the back in order to relieve pain or tension.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): Use of a small device that delivers small shocks in order to stimulate the body’s natural pain killers.
Vertebra: One of 33 bony structures in the spine that are lined up and stacked upon each other, with disks in between, to give the back flexibility.
Vertebral compression fracture: A fracture, or break, in a vertebra, which makes the vertebra collapse.
Vertebroplasty: A procedure in which synthetic bone filler is injected into a fractured vertebra to help stabilize it.
Zygapophyseal joints: Also known as “Z” joints or facet joints, these are joints between adjacent vertebra.