Backpain Relief

Backpain Glossary


Useful medical terms & expressions


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Medical professionals often assume that you understand what they are saying - unfortunately, some of them are very poor at explaining anything - and their conversation is often a mix of Latin names and modern abbreviations. Hopefully, this short glossary of terms relating to backpain will help your understanding.


An ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting thin needles at various sites on the body to relieve pain or influence other body processes. Today, doctors use acupuncture for problems as diverse as addiction, morning sickness, and back pain.

Acute pain

The most common type of back pain. Acute pain often begins suddenly – after a fall or injury, for example – and lasts for 6 weeks or less.


Medications designed to relieve pain. Analgesics used for back pain include those that are available by prescription or over-the-counter and those made to be taken orally or rubbed onto the skin.

Ankylosing spondylitis

A form of arthritis that affects the spine, the sacroiliac joints, and sometimes the hips and shoulders. In severe cases, the joints of the spine fuse and the spine becomes rigid.


An inflamation of the joints. There are more than 200 types of which the more common are listed below.

Cauda equina syndrome

A condition in which the nerves that control the bowels and bladder are pinched as they leave the spine. Unless treated promptly, the condition can lead to the loss of bowel and/or bladder function.

Cervical spine

The upper portion of the spine closest to the skull. It is composed of seven vertebrae.

Chronic pain

The least common type of back pain. Chronic pain may begin either quickly or slowly; it generally lasts for 3 months or more.


Circular pieces of cushioning tissue situated between each of the spine’s vertebrae. Each disc has a strong outer cover and a soft jelly-like filling.


The surgical removal of a herniated disc. A discectomy can be performed in a number of different ways, such as through a large incision in the spine or through newer, less-invasive procedures using magnifying microscopes, x rays, small tools, and even lasers.

Facet joints

The joints where the vertebrae of the spine connect to one another. Arthritis of the facet joints is believed to be an uncommon cause of back pain.


A condition of widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and tender points on the body. Fibromyalgia is one cause of low back pain.

Herniated disc

A potentially painful problem in which the hard outer coating of the disc is damaged, allowing the disc’s jelly-like center to leak and cause irritation to adjacent nerves. See Herniated Discs - A comprehensive herniated disc resource written by a recovered disc pain patient. Learn all about disc herniations, degenerative disc disease and treatment options.

Intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDT)

A treatment for herniated discs in which a wire is inserted into the disc through a small incision in the back. An electrical current is then passed through wire to modify and strengthen the collagen fibers that hold the disc together.


A procedure for vertebral fractures in which a balloon-like device is inserted into the vertebra to help restore the height and shape of the spine and a cement-like substance is injected to repair and stabilize it.


The surgical removal of the lamina (the back of the spinal canal) and spurs inside the canal that are pressing on nerves within the canal. The procedure is a major surgery requiring a large incision and a hospital stay.

Lumbar spine

The lower portion of the spine. It is composed of five vertebrae.


A disease in which the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones at the joints wears away, leading to pain, stiffness, and bony overgrowths, called spurs. It is the most common form of arthritis and becomes more likely with age.


A condition in which the bones become porous and brittle, and break easily.



A treatment for back pain in which a practitioner injects a sugar solution or other irritating substance into trigger points along the periosteum (tough, fibrous tissue covering the bones) to trigger an inflammatory response that promotes the growth of dense, fibrous tissue. The theory behind prolotherapy is that such tissue growth strengthens the attachment of tendons and ligaments whose loosening has contributed to back pain.


A type of massage that uses strong pressure on deep tissues in the back to relieve tightness of the fascia (a sheath of tissue that covers the muscles) that can cause or contribute to back pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis

A disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the tissue that lines the joints, leading to joint pain, inflammation, instablity, and misshapen joints.

Sacroiliac joints

The joints where the spine and pelvis attach. The sacroiliac joints are often affected by types of arthritis referred to as spondyloarthropathies.


Pain felt down the back and outer side of the thigh. The usual cause is a herniated disc, which is pressing on a nerve root. Visit Sciatica for honest and easy to understand articles about sciatica, sciatic nerve conditions and treatments, written by a recovered patient.


A condition in which the spine curves to one side as a result of congenital malformations, neuromuscular disorders, injury, infection, or tumors.

Spinal fusion

The surgical joining of two more vertebrae together, usually with bone grafts and hardware. The resulting fused vertebrae are stable but immobile. Spinal fusion is used as a treatment for spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis

The narrowing of the spinal canal (through which the spinal cord runs), often by the overgrowth of bone caused by osteoarthritis of the spine.


A form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints.


A condition in which a vertebra of the lumbar (lower) spine slips out of place.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

A treatment designed to relieve pain by directing mild electrical impulses to nerves in the painful area of the body.


The individual bones that make up the spinal column.


A minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves injecting a cement-like mixture into a fractured vertebra to relieve pain and stabilize the spine.


Not strictly a medical term although generally recognised as the result of the head being thrown backward and forward as a result of - for example - your car being hit from behind. See also our section on backpain and driving.

These are just a few of the expresions your doctor or health care professional may use. If you don't understand - and few of us do - then ask, either at the time or post us a question and we will try to explain things.


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