Medical/Neurosurgical Glossary
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Cage Implant – This is an implantable device used to stabilize the back by creating a fusion between adjacent levels of the spine. Some cages are metal (stainless steel or titanium) and some are made of high tech plastic. Most cages are designed to be filled with bone graft.

Caisson Disease – Also known as decompression sickness, this involves the development of small bubbles in the arteries and veins.  It is seen in divers who ascend too rapidly after a deep or long dive.  It was first reported in bridge workers who used pressurized caissons, or boxes, to build the bridge supports.

Calcium Channel Blocker – These are a group of drugs used to treat blood pressure which also help some kinds of pain.

Calluses – Thick, hardened areas of the skin, usually on the foot, caused by friction or pressure.  This is also the name of the thickened areas of bone that form after a fracture.

Cancellous Bone – The spongy soft bone tissue found inside of larger bones.  Cancellous bone is covered by a hard cortical bone shell.

Cancer – This is a disease caused by abnormal cells that divide without control.  These tumor cells can invade nearby tissues, spread through the bloodstream, or spread by the lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Cantelli Sign (Doll’s Eye Sign) – Normally the eyes move with the head.  This sign is present when the eyes move in an opposite direction to the head.  In an unconscious patient, turning the head to the left, for example, will cause the eyes to go to the right.

Capsule – This the thin layer of cells which surround an organ.

Carcinogen – These are substances that cause cells to form cancers.  Cigarette smoke is one example.

Carpal Tunnel – This is the space between the ligaments and bones of the wrist which holds the median nerve.  When the space is too small, the nerve may be pinched and painful.  The pain is often worse at night.  It may be helped with splints, injections or surgery.

Cartilage – The hard, thin layer of glossy, white tissue that covers the ends of bone at a joint. This tissue permits movement with a minimum amount of friction.

Carver technique – Method developed by Willard Carver, an early Palmer student who formulated his own theories about subluxations and nerve interference and opened the Carver Chiropractic college in 1908. Carver developed a technique in which traction and pressure is applied to the spine just before making a manual thrust, which he called the "Tracto-Thrust" system.

Catastrophic Coverage – Catastrophic health insurance, also known as “major medical insurance,” is a type of health insurance.  It usually has a high deductible.  It is for severe problems that are very expensive but does not cover routine care such as doctor’s visits.

Catatonia (Kaulbaum Disease) – This is a psychological syndrome causing loss of volitional movement.

Catheter – A flexible tube used to drain fluid from or inject fluid into the body. The most common catheter is the Foley catheter, used to drain urine from the bladder.

Cauda Equina – Latin for horses’ tails, this is the name of the lowest nerve roots in the spine.  These roots look somewhat like the tail of a horse.

Cauda Equina Syndrome – Damage to the lowest nerves in the spinal cord that causes weakness in both of the feet, incontinence of urine and incontinence of stool.  This is most often caused by a large disc herniation and is a surgical emergency.

Caudal – This means to move away from the head or toward the area of the tail bone.  It is the opposite of cranial.

Causation - the legal determination that employment resulted in (or "caused") an illness or injury.

Cavitation – Pop that occurs in a spinal joint when vertebral surfaces (facets) are separated to create a vacuum that pulls in nitrogen gas.

CED (Cervical Endoscopic Discectomy) – An outpatient surgical procedure used to trim a herniated disc in the neck. It is a controversial type of surgery and may be more risky than conventional cervical disc surgery.

Central Cord Syndrome – A spinal injury often caused a mild fall in a patient with a pre-existing spinal stenosis.  This injury causes weakness and numbness in the arms and may spare the legs.

Central Sleep Apnea Syndrome – Poor breathing at night usually due do a neurologic problem rather than a nasal disorder.

Centrum – Latin for center, it means the middle of a bone such as a spinal vertebra.

Cerebellum – A large structure consisting of two halves (hemispheres) located in the lower part of the brain, this is responsible for coordination, movement and balance.    

Cerebral Embolism – A blood clot from one part of the body is carried by the bloodstream to the brain where it blocks an artery and causes a stroke.  

Cerebral Hemorrhage – Bleeding within the brain.    

Cerebral Thrombosis – This refers to the formation of a blood clot in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. 

Cerebrovascular – A word indicating the blood vessels in the brain.

Cerebrohepatorenal Syndrome (Zellweger Syndrome) – A birth defect with an abnormal face, brain dysfunction and damage to the kidneys and liver.

Cerebrovascular Accident – This is also called a stroke and is usually caused by a loss of blood flow to the brain.

Cerebrovascular Occlusion – This involves an obstruction in one of the blood vessels in the brain and usually causes a stroke.

Cerebellopontine Angle Syndrome – Damage to the seventh and eight cranial nerves at the angle between the cerebellum and the pons causes this named syndrome.

Cerebellum – The posterior portion of the brain which controls coordination.

Cerebrum – This part of the brain consists of two parts (lobes), left and right, which form the largest and most developed part of the brain.  It causes the initiation and coordination of all voluntary movement take place within the cerebrum. The basal ganglia are located immediately below the cerebrum.

Cervical Discectomy, Anterior (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.

Cervical Endoscopic Discectomy (CAD) – An outpatient surgical procedure used to trim a herniated disc in the neck. It is a controversial type of surgery and may be more risky than conventional cervical disc surgery.

Cervical Fusion Syndrome (Klippel-Feil Syndrome) – A birth defect where two of the vertebral bones in the neck are joined together, this is associated with a higher than average incidence of disc disease.

Cervical Rib Syndrome – This syndrome is caused by extra rib in the neck.  Normally ribs occur only in the thorax.  The extra rib can pinch some of the nerves going to the arm and cause a thoracic outlet syndrome.

Cervical Spine – This is the upper part of the spine and includes the seven vertebral bones of the neck.

Cervical vertebrae – Each of the seven bones neck area of the spine.

Cervicobrachial Syndrome – The combination of neck and arm pain carries this name.  It is most often caused by a pinched nerve in the neck but may result from muscle tension.

Charcot Disease, Charcot Joint Disease – This damage to a joint is an accelerated form of arthritis due to damaged nerves.  Nervous input is required to protect our joints.  When the nerves to a joint are disconnected, the body does not protect the joint normally and it wears out prematurely.

Charcot Syndrome – A progressive disorder of joints due to lack of innervation.  The joints become arthritic and dysfunctional very quickly if the nerves are interrupted.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease – A congenital form of muscle and nerve damage which causes weakness, particularly in the legs.

Chemonucleolysis – A treatment of for intervertebral disc disease where chymopapain, a drug that dissolves disc, is injected into the center of the disc.

Chemotherapy – The use of drugs or chemicals to treat a disease.  This is a generic term that refers to any drug but doctors most commonly use it to discuss cancer therapy.

Cherubism (Jones Syndrome) – This is the combination of several birth defects including craniosynostosis and Dandy-Walker Malformations.

Cheyne-Stokes Respirations – These very abnormal breathing patterns are often followed quickly by death.

Chiasmal Syndrome, Chiasmatic Syndrome – A partial blindness due to damage of the optic chiasm, the portion of the optic nerves that connect just above the pituitary gland.

Chiropractic Biophysics (CBP) – Method of chiropractic analysis and treatment in which spinal corrections are based on theoretical calculations related to posture and spinal curvature.

Chorea – A rapid, jerky, dance-like movement of the body.

Chronic – This refers to any condition or problem that lasts a long time.  It is the opposite of acute or short term.

Chronic Brain Syndrome (Organic Mental Syndrome) – This is a dysfunction of the brain due to trauma, chemical imbalance, stroke or some other physical or physiologic problem.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – This is a poorly understood syndrome where there is ongoing tiredness, weakness, pain and generally poor health.  It may be similar to fibromyalgia.  There is not clear reason why this develops and there is not good treatment besides psychological supportive care and antidepressants.  Surgery is never indicated.  Blocks are never indicated.

Chronic pain – A pain episode that lasts more than three months. This is the opposite of acute pain.

Chvostek Sign (Chvostek-Weiss Sign) – Gently tapping a nerve will produce a severe muscle spasm if this is present.  It is often first noted in the face and is frequently due to abnormalities of calcium in the blood.

Circle of Willis – This group of blood vessels at the base of the brain (around the pituitary) forms a circle.  Blood from the two carotid arteries and the two vertebral arteries mix together and is then redistributed to all areas of the brain.  This overlapping of supply makes stroke less likely.

Claims Examiner - an insurance company employee who oversees insurance benefits; an adjustor.

Claudication -- Pain and rapid fatigue in arms and legs due to a poor supply of oxygen to the muscles or due to a pinching of the nerve roots in the low back. 

Cleland-Arnold-Chiari Malformation – This is a deformity present from birth where the back part of the brain is displaced downward into the spine and where there is usually also hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

Clinical Trials – Research studies, involving patients, aimed at finding better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, or treat disease.

Closed Head Syndrome – An entire complex of symptoms and dysfunctions, this is caused by a head injury.  They can include memory loss, poor cognition (thinking) and disorganization.

Cobb Angle Measurement – This is a measurement of a curve of the spine. 

Coccyx – The region of the spine which is below the sacrum. It is also known as the tailbone.

Cogwheel Phenomenon – This is a visual abnormality caused with attempts to look upward.  The patient’s two eyes move in opposite directions.

Cogwheel Sign – A rigidity of joint motion, where the moves in a jerky fashion, this is usually due to a tremor such as that which is present in Parkinson’s patients.

Coinsurance -- Many insurance policies require policyholders to pay a portion of medical costs. The extra money paid by the patient is called the coinsurance.  It is also called a co-payment.

Coital Cephalgia Syndrome – Headaches are known by this name when they occur during sexual intercourse.  They frequently occur in those who also have migraines.

Collagen – A fibrous protein that is a major part of connective tissue, skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones.

Comminuted Fracture – A fracture where a bone is broken into more than two pieces.

Compensatory Curve – This curve is part of a scoliosis.  It is a reverse curve above or below the worst curvature and “compensates” in part or “makes up for a severe twist in the spine.

Complementary Medicine – Refers to any form of non-traditional therapy, or alternative medicine, when it is used in combination with conventional medical care.  Examples include chiropractic care used with standard medications, or acupuncture used as an adjunct to pain medications.

Complete – Total, involving 100% of something, as in complete loss of strength in the legs.

Complete Cord Syndrome – Damage to the entire of the spinal cord causing total loss of function below the level of the damage or injury.

Compression – A pressing together or crushing, as in the loss of vertebral body height from an injury.

Compression Syndrome – Damage to an extremity due to pressure as might result from being trapped under a fallen building.  Typically this results in numbness, weakness, muscle and nerve injury.

Concept therapy – Method of using a positive state of mind to help "innate intelligence" heal the body, thus making any chiropractic technique more effective. Its founder taught that once you know the "great secret" taught in Concept Therapy, you can make any technique work.

Congenital – Present at the time of birth. 

Contusion – A bruise.

Constant - under California law describes the frequency of a pain as occurring from 95% to 100% of the time; of "occasional," "intermittent," "frequent," and "constant."

Contact Reflex Analysis (CRA) – A testing procedure in which diagnoses are made by testing muscle strength while placing manual pressure on "reflex points." The results are then used to prescribe vitamin supplements and/or homeopathic products.

Contour analysis – A procedure in which an angled light is passed through a grid to the surface of the patient's body to produce a pattern of shadows that is viewed on a screen and/or photographed. The resultant picture resembles a topographic map. This is also called a moire contour graphic analysis.

Co-payment – Most health insurance policies require policyholders to a part of the cost of each visit to the doctor. Co-payments are usually $10 to $40 per visit.

Cord – Any length of tube or rope is called a cord.  In the body this term usually means the spinal cord, although there are other rare uses of the word in relation to body parts.

Cord Sign – A line within a vein, usually seen on a CT scan, indicates the presence of a clot.  This usually applies the superior sagittal sinus, a large vein in the brain.

Cord Syndrome – Damage to the a portion of the spinal cord as the result of a disease or injury.  Examples include complete cord syndrome, anterior cord syndrome, posterior cord syndrome and others.

Coronal – Refers to an imaginary plane through the body which divides it into anterior and posterior portions.

Cortex – The outer layer of the cerebrum, a part of the brain which is densely packed with nerve cells.

Cortical Bone – This is the hard crusty surface of bones which surrounds the marrow.

Corticosteroids – This is a group of potent anti-inflammatory hormones.  Some are naturally in the body and others are synthetically made for use as drugs. The most commonly prescribed drug of this type is called prednisone.

Cox flexion-distraction technique – Method of applying manually controlled distraction or stretching to specific spinal segments with the assistance of a movable table. Not a manipulation technique.

Cranial – This term has two meanings.  It refers to the skull bone or “cranium.”  It also means to move closer to the head.  It is the opposite of caudal.

Craniectomy – A surgical operation which includes the excision of a part of the skull.

Craniotomy – The surgical opening of the skull to gain access to the brain and the other structures within the skull.

Credι Maneuver – A technique where one presses over the lower abdomen to expel urine from the bladder.  This is usually done by patients with spinal cord injuries and loss of bladder function.

Crepitus – A grinding noise or sensation within a joint.

Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease – This is a rare disease of the brain which causes dementia (slow thought) and eventual death.  It is similar to mad-cow disease.

Crossed Sciatic Sign (Fajersztajn Sign) – A sign of sciatic nerve injury or a ruptured lumbar disc, the hip can be flexed when the knee is bent but not when the knee is straight.  This is positive when the straight leg test is positive.

Crush Syndrome – Damage to an extremity due to pressure as might result from being trapped under a fallen building.  Typically this results in numbness, weakness, muscle and nerve injury.

Cubital Tunnel – This is the space between the ligaments and bones of the elbow which holds the ulnar nerve.  When the space is too small, the nerve may be pinched and painful.  It may be helped with splints, injections or surgery.

Cupping – This involves the use of warmed glass jars to create suction on certain points of the body.  It is often done by acupuncturists.

Cushing Disease – This is a rare medical problem caused by an excess of steroids secondary to a pituitary tumor.  Similar to Cushing syndrome where there is not tumor.

Cushing, Harvey – Dr. Cushing was the first and most famous of the neurosurgeons.  He is generally regarded as the father of the specialty.  He lived from 1869 to 1939, worked at Johns Hopkins and during his life was as famous as any modern rock star.

Cushing Operation – This is a brain surgery done using a particular subtemporal (in front of the ear) approach to the fifth nerve for facial pain.

Cushing Phenomenon – With increased pressure in the head, from a tumor or injury, the blood pressure goes up and the pulse goes down.  This is an ominous sign.

Cushing Syndrome – An excessive quantity of steroids, often associated with facial changes, excess hair, osteoporosis and other problems, this problem may be due to any of a number of causes related to the adrenal gland or pituitary.

Cushing Triad – The three components of this triad are increased pressure in the head (from tumor or trauma), increased blood pressure, and a decreased pulse.  This is an ominous sign.

Cyanosis – A bluish color in the skin which is due to insufficient oxygen levels in the blood.

Cytology – The scientific study of individual cells.

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.

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Last modified: 07/27/08