Medical/Neurosurgical Glossary
- A -

  A B C D E F
G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z  

A – A Latin prefix derived from “anti” that indicates the absence of a normal structure.

Ablation – Elimination or removal.

Ablative Therapy – Includes treatments that remove a tissue or stop its functioning.

Abduction – This is to move an extremity away from the center of the body.  This is the opposite of adduction.

Abstinence Syndrome – The consequences of the sudden withdrawal from an addictive substance such as alcohol, tobacco or narcotics.

ACD (Anterior Cervical Discectomy) This is an operation for patients with pinched nerves in the neck. It is performed under general anesthesia and sometimes includes a fusion. The disc is trimmed or removed so that the nerve is no longer pinched.

Achondroplasia Syndrome – A birth defect characterized by short limbs and a normal sized trunk, this relates to malformed cartilaginous end plates on the long bones.

Acromegaly – A hormone disorder due to pituitary dysfunction.  Too much growth hormone causes elongation of the nose and jaw, thickening of the joints and tissue edema.  It is treated with surgery to remove dysfunctioning portion of the pituitary gland.

Activator Adjusting Instrument – A handheld instrument used by chiropractors who assert that slightly misaligned vertebrae can be tapped back into place with a mallet.

Acupuncture Chinese medicine.  A technique of treating the body based on the Zen religion and involving the use of small needles accurately placed on meridians throughout the body.

Acute back pain Back pain that lasts a short while, usually a few days to several weeks. Episodes lasting longer than three months are not considered acute but are chronic.

Acute Brain Syndrome – This is a sudden organic loss of mental capacity.  It can be a psychosis or functional loss of ability.  Common causes include the ingestion of hallucinogens or poisons.  This is also known as an acute organic syndrome.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) – Personal care activities necessary for everyday living, such as eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, and using the toilet are all ADL’s.  This is a term often used by healthcare professionals to assess the needs and types of care a person may require.

Adam Sign – A sign of acute back pain.  Standing is painful, extension is worse.  Lateral bending and rotation are less restricted.

Adduction – This is to move an extremity toward the center of the body.  This is the opposite of abduction.

Adjustor – An employee of an insurance company who manages injury claims is known as an adjustor or claims examiner.  His job is to reduce costs by limiting payments to those with claims.

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) - a Federal judge who presides over Federal workers' compensation cases.

Adson Maneuver, Adson Test – Coolness and loss of pulse of the arm in some positions and associated with pain, this test is positive in patients with thoracic outlet syndrome.

Agee Endoscope A particular type of endoscope with a camera and a knife that is used to correct the carpal tunnel syndrome.

AgonistA drug capable of combining with receptors to initiate an action that can be known in advance.

Agreed Medical-legal Examination (AME) – A report requested jointly by an applicant attorney (representing a patient) and a defense attorney (representing an insurance company) in a workers’ compensation dispute.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome – An organic brain dysfunction associated with the withdrawal of alcohol in a person who is an addict.

Alignment, Spinal – The healthy, normal spine has a number of gentle curves which are normal.  When the shape of the spine is not normal, it is said to be out of alignment.

Allen Test – A measurement of the blood supply to the hand, this test makes sure that both the radial and ulnar arteries are functioning properly.

Allodynia – A condition in which ordinary, non-painful stimuli evoke pain.

Allograft – Tissue derived from another human that is used grafting procedures, that is to replace other damaged tissues by transplantation.

Allograft Bone – Sterile bone tissue from another person, used for transplantation.

Allopathic Medicine – This is also called conventional medicine or traditional medicine.  It is the type of medicine practiced by M.D. and D.O. type doctors.

Alternative medicine – Any form of treatment outside of or other than conventional, traditional or allopathic medicine.  Examples include acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal medicine, massage therapy, etc.

Alzheimer Disease – This is a loss of cognitive abilities or a dementia.  It is called a pre-senile dementia.  It is assumed that were everyone to live long enough, cognition would slow.  This refers to slowness or loss of mental capacity before one’s time.

American College of Environmental and Occupational Medicine Guidelines (ACOEM Guides) – This is a book published by a group of insurance doctors which was adopted by the state of California lawmakers as a roadmap to guide the care of injured workers.

Amnesia Syndrome, Amnestic Syndrome – An altered psychologic state where memories are not recorded and are lost.

Amoss Sign – A painful flexion of the spine.  When rising to a sitting position in the bed, the back pain is especially severe.  This was described first in patients with tuberculosis of the spine.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – This is a progressive and disabling weakness suffered by the ball player Lou Gehrig and also by the physicist Hawking.

Anesthesia – Loss of feeling or sensation as a result of drugs or gases. “General anesthesia” causes loss of consciousness and “local” or “regional anesthesia” causes loss of feeling only in a specified area.

Ankylosis — A fusion or consolidation of the bones at a joint, caused by the overgrowth of bony tissue, because of chronic inflammation of a joint, or after a surgical operation to intentionally fuse the joint. The name comes from the Greek word agkulos meaning "curved."

Annulus Fibrosus – The annulus is the outer part of the intervertebral disc. It is a tough fibrous shell surrounding the soft center (nucleus) of the disc.  A disc is similar to a tire.  The annulus is like the fibers that bind and give strength to a tire.

Ante – A Latin word meaning before, as in “antebellum” meaning before the civil war (or any war).

Anti – A Latin prefix that means that something is the opposite of its normal meaning.

Antagonist A drug that works by interfering with, or blocking, receptor sites.  Aspirin is one example.

Antalgia Sign – An abnormal gait where one favors one of the legs because of pain.  This is often due to a ruptured lumbar disc, a bad hip, a bad knee or a bad ankle.

Anterior – This refers to the front portion of the body. It is a term that indicates that one structure is in front of another.

Anterior Longitudinal Ligament – A thick band of tissue that runs along the front of the spine, this ligament provides stability and limits the motion between vertebrae.

Anterolateral – A combination of the words anterior and lateral, it means both in front of and to the side (both anterior and lateral).

Anterior Cervical Discectomy (ACD) An operation for patients with pinched nerves in the neck. It is performed under general anesthesia and sometimes includes a fusion.  The disc is trimmed or removed so that the nerve is no longer pinched.

Anterior Cord Syndrome – This results from damage to, and the loss of function of, the front or anterior portion of the spinal cord.  This usually involves the loss of motion and most sensation.

Anterior Interosseous Nerve Syndrome (Kiloh-Nevin Syndrome) – This is a weakness of the muscles of the forearm due to damage of this nerve.

Anterior Tibial Compartment Syndrome – Damage to the muscles and nerves in the front of the leg due to a severe bruise or trauma.  This is due to swelling.

Anti-coagulant – Also called blood thinners, these medications keeps blood from clotting.

Anti-inflammatory – Medications or drugs that reduce the pain and other symptoms caused by inflammation.

Anti-spasmodic – A medicine that reduces or stops muscle spasms. 

Anxiety Syndrome (Anxiety Neurosis) – This is a term which describes physical symptoms associated with fear and anxiety.  These may include palpitations, sweating, rapid and shallow respirations, pallor and panic.

AOE/COE - "arising out-of employment or in the course of employment;" an injury determined to be work related; applies only to the California state workers' compensation system.

Aphasia – The total or partial loss of one’s ability to use or understand language.  This is usually caused by a stroke, degenerative neurologic diseases, or injuries. 

Aphonia – The complete loss of the voice.

Apical Vertebra – The most rotated vertebra in a scoliotic curve.  It forms the sharp angle at the center of a spinal curvature.

Applicant – An injured worker with a claim under the workers’ compensation system is said to “apply” for benefits and is therefore an applicant.

Applied kinesiologyA method of testing muscle strength to detect the presence of disease, vitamin deficiency, and other problems.

Apportionment - a legal determination that employment did not cause all of the problems related to an illness or injury (a finding that some other event contributed to the disability).

Appointments Visits with the doctor at a predetermined time.

Apraxia – The inability to make any coordinated voluntary movement in spite of having normal muscle strength.

Arnold-Chiari Syndrome – This is a birth defect where a portion of the back of the brain is forced downward into the spinal canal.  Several varieties exist.  These were first described in the late 1800’s.

Aromatherapy – This therapy had been used in medicine for over 6000 years.  It is a component of holistic treatment.  Scented oils provide a variety of benefits treating pain and depression.

Arthralgia – Local pain in a joint which is usually due to arthritis or an other degenerative problem.

Arthritis – This refers to the degeneration or wearing out of a joint.  Arthritis includes simple “wear and tear” as well as more than 100 different diseases causing pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.

Arthrodesis – The fusion of bones across a joint space, this eliminates movement by joining two bones together.

Arthropathy – Any disease or disorder involving a joint.  It is the combination of the Latin words for joint and disease.

Arthroplasty – The surgical rebuilding of a diseased or damaged joint, it is usually done by inserting a metal and plastic artificial joint.

Arthroscope – An instrument which is inserted into a joint so that the surgeon can to see the interior of the joint and correct minor abnormalities. An arthroscope is the same as an endoscope but is used in a joint. 

Arthroscopy – The surgical procedure where one visualizes the inside of a joint using an arthroscope. 

Arthrosis – An arthrosis is a joint, an area where two bones are attached for but still move. An arthrosis (joint) is usually formed of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage.

Articular – Pertaining to a joint, often used to refer to the joint cartilage, the “articular surface.”

Articular cartilage – A thin layer of tissue that covers the ends of bones at joints and provides a low friction and wear-resistant surface for movement.

Aromatherapy Massage A massage technique combining the therapeutic properties of essential oils with specific massage techniques to promote health and well-being.

Asperger Syndrome (Kanner Syndrome) – Infantile autism, a syndrome where a child may appear bright, alert and attentive in spite of odd behavior.

Atlas – This is the upper most vertebral bone of the spinal column (also labeled C1). The atlas is located just beneath the skull at the top of the cervical spine.

Atlas orthogonal technique (A.O.T.) – One of many methods of correcting cervical "subluxations" claimed to be responsible for problems anywhere in the body.

Atlas subluxation complex (ASC) – An alleged entity that some chiropractors feel is the most common and the most serious vertebral misalignment. Chiropractors who practice specific "upper cervical techniques" focus on the ASC.

Atrophy – A decline or wasting of a body part or tissue.  The loss of bulk of a muscle, following a period of disuse or immobility, is one example.

Atypical – Refers to something which is not usual or normal.  It often refers to the appearance of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – This is the same as the hyperactive child syndrome.  Ashort attention span causes the extra activity, or the extra activity interferes with the attention span, but in either case, learning is impaired.

Autogenous – Originating from one’s own body.  It is often used to identify transplant tissue moved from one part of the body to another.

Autogenous Bone – An individual's own bone tissue.

Autograft – Tissue from one part of a person’s body, which is used to transplant to another area.

Autograft Bone – Bone transplanted from one part to another part of the body in the same individual.

Avascular necrosis – The death of a tissue due to the loss of its blood supply.  The hip joint may be affected and the damage is sometimes the result of steroid use.

Avulsion – When a muscle is forcefully stretched beyond its limits it can be torn or avulsed from its bony attachment

Axis – This is the second vertebra in the upper part of the cervical spine. The axis is located just beneath the atlas.  It has an unusual projection upwards which is called the dens. The axis is injured in trauma or as the result of rheumatoid arthritis.

Axon – The long, hair-like extension of a nerve cell that carries a message to a nearby nerve cell.


If you are aware of any useful spine and neuromusculoskeletal terms which are not included in this list, or if you have suggestions for better definitions,  your help would be greatly appreciated.  Please send me any upgrades and I will update the web site appropriately.  Click here to send a comment.






The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.


Copyright © 2007, Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group. All rights are reserved.  No part of this web site may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored, electronically or on paper, without the written permission of the Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc.
Last modified: 07/27/08