Here is an alphabetical list of terms used for many common back pain conditions. If your doctor has foxed you with an unfamiliar diagnosis, this may help you decode it...
A painful, inflammatory disease of unknown origin that causes the sacro-iliac joints and spinal vertebrae to fuse (ankylose) together.
The tough, fibrous outer casing of the intervertebral disc that holds the nucleus pulposus in place.
The facet joint
A disease where dense scar tissue forms around the nerves of the spine causing symptoms such as burning pain, pins and needles, numbness and weakness.
On both sides of the body.
Blood is taken via a hypodermic needle from a vein in the forearm. It is then tested to check for signs of infection, anaemia, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. The procedure of taking blood is referred to as “venepuncture”.
A radioactive isotope is injected into the vein and a set of images is obtained, which will help to exclude such problems as Osteoporosis and Oseo-arthritis.
This literally means ‘horse’s tail’ and is used to describe the nerve fibres at the end of the spinal cord, below the level of the second lumbar vertebra (L2).
The clear fluid that bathes the brain and the spinal cord. It is removed for testing through a lumbar puncture. It is into this fluid that the radio-opaque fluid for a myelgram is injected.
This term describes the neck which is made up of 7 vertebrae.
This is a procedure whereby an enzyme derived from the papaya fruit is injected into the intervertebral disc to shrink it and try and alleviate pain caused by a bulging disc.
Pain in the coccyx region. It can occur following a fall or other trauma. It can also be secondary to low back pain. Muscle spasm can occur in the piriformis, levator ani and coccygeus muscles.
This is the last bone of the spine that is made up of four tiny fused vertebrae.
This is an investigation that is performed as an outpatient in the scanning unit. It is a painless procedure and takes an average of 20 minutes. Cross-sectional images are produced from information received through beams of x-rays going through the body.
Being present at birth.
This describes any non-surgical treatment of back pain, e.g. physical therapies, pain killers, traction, exercises, massage.
The process of change, usually with age, in bone or soft tissue. Sometimes referred to as ‘wear and tear’.
The discs undergo a process of change from a supple, flexible structure that allows movement and acts as a cushion, to a stiff and rigid one that restricts the amount of movement and is a less effective cushion.
This process can start as early as 20 to 30 years of age and by the 60th year it would be a universal finding on x-ray examination.
An area of skin that is known to be served by a specific spinal nerve.
One of the 23 shock-absorbing pads that act as spacers of the vertebrae. Sometimes referred to as intervertebral discs. See annulus fibrosis, nucleus pulposus and vertebral endplates.
The surgical removal of part of the disc that has prolapsed, bulged or ruptured causing pressure on spinal nerves. This operation can be done by open method, by microsurgery and a minimally invasive technique through an endoscope.
An investigation that is done as an aid to a surgeon prior to surgery. A contrast medium is injected into the disc nucleus and a series of x-rays taken that will show up the structure of a disc on the discogram. The person’s pain reaction can also help determine which disc is causing the pain.
Epidurals are given for the relief of lower abdominal and leg pain. A cocktail of drugs containing a corticosteriod and a local anaesthetic is injected into the epidural space, between the bone and the membrane that encloses the spinal cord.
As one vertebra sits on another the top of one and the bottom of the other meet at two places referred to as the facet joints. They are synovial joints, that is they are encapsulated and produce a lubricating fluid.
This is the gap between the pedicles of the vertebrae that holds the nerve roots as they emerge from the spinal cord to the left and the right.
The bulging through of a part of the body, e.g. the nucleus pulposus can herniated through the annulus fibrosus.
A term used to describe an abnormal increase in the movement of one vertebrae to another.
The convex curve of the thoracic spine. It can be over exaggerated in such diseases as Osteoporosis and Scheuermann’s disease.
This is an operation to remove part of the bony arch at the back of a vertebra. This is done to gain access to the nerves in the foramen and allow them more space.
The concave curve found in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine. Can be a deformity if it is excessive.
These are the bands of fibrous tissue that bind a joint and control its range of movement.
The area of the spine between the thoracic vertebrae and the sacrum.
An imprecise term for low back pain.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves a highly technical scanner that uses magnetic fields and computer technology to generate images of the internal anatomy of the body, including the discs and nerve roots.
A contrast medium (Gladolinium) can be used intravenously to gain clarity of image, especially with those who have already undergone back surgery.
A water-soluble, radio-opaque dye is injected into the cerebro-spinal fluid. This allows nerve tissue to be viewed on x-ray and enables a doctor to trace any nerve entrapment.
The start of the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord or cauda equina and passes through the left and right foremen to serve an area of the body.
The core of the intervertebral discs. It has a high fluid content in our early years and then dries out with age.
The degenerative change of a joint, which makes it less able to withstand stresses and strains, causing pain and change to the shape of the joint.
A disease of bone characterised by the decrease of calcium content making the bone less dense. This makes the bone more liable to fracture and collapse causing spinal pain. It is more common in women after the menopause, but it can be found in people who have had eating disorders and after long-term steroid use.
Pain is an emotion experienced in the brain, it is not like touch, taste, sight smell or hearing. It is categorised into Acute pain – less than 12 weeks duration and Chronic pain – of more than 12 weeks. Pain can be a warning of potential damage, but can also be present when no actual harm is being done to the body.
You can't rely on pain to tell you if you are damaging your back, because the spinous discs don't have nerves.
Scar tissue formation around the dura. This can be as a result of natural degenerative processes or of invasive treatments, such as surgery.
The area of the spine between the lumbar vertebrae and the coccyx, which consists of 5 fused vertebrae.
Sometimes referred to as Spinal Osteochondritis. This is a development abnormality in the intervertebral discs and vertebrtal bodies causing them to become wedge-shaped. This can cause an increase in the kyphotic curve and predispose the person to premature wear and tear. Exercise and attention to posture and lifestyle are important to prevent pain and deformity.
A sideways curvature of the spine, which can be caused by a congenital deformity, or a temporary reaction caused by muscle spasm.
Strictly speaking it is pain along the length of the sciatic nerve, that is down the back of the thigh, through the calf and into the foot. It is sometimes used more loosely to describe any leg symptoms originating from the back.
The hole that runs the length of the spine containing the spinal cord, its covering and the nerves that leave it in pairs at each level of vertebrae.
Narrowing of the width of the canal causing pressure on the nerve held within it. This can occur in the central spinal canal and in the lateral (side) nerve root canals.
Inflammation of any of the spinal vertebrae. This can be because of injury, infection or rheumatoid disease (see Ankylosing Spondylitis).
A condition where one vertebra slips out of alignment with another. Most common is the 4th over the 5th lumbar vertebra or the 5th over the sacrum. The causes can be congenital or due to structural defects, degenerative changes and injury. Some people have it without symptoms, but others have major pain and nerve-related symptoms. Called retrolisthesis if the slippage is backwards.
A crack in the neural arch of the vertebra that can predispose to a Spondylolisthesis. This can be congenital, caused by over-use or found in people with a history of falls.
A condition of the spine where the discs have narrowed and osteophytes have formed at the junction of the disc and vertebra. This can lead to stiffness and eventually fixation of the joint.
The region of the spine between the neck and the lumbar vertebrae. The ribs connect with the 12 thoracic vertebrae.
An old form of conservative treatment that attempts to relieve pain by stretching the spine, in part or as a whole. It can be done by hand or with a variety of machines, some of which turn you upside down.
A battery powered machine that delivers small electric shocks via adhesively attached electrodes, placed either side of the spine, with the aim of blocking the pain messages to the brain and producing the body's natural pain killers, endorphins.
The 33 bones of the spine, 24 of which are single and jointed, the others being fused.
The top and bottom of the vertebral body that comes into contact with the disc.