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Metro Health

Back Pain

Key Terms

Acupuncture: 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 no longer than 6 weeks.

Analgesics: Medications designed to relieve pain.  Analgesics used for back pain include both prescription and over-the-counter products.  Some are made to be taken orally, and others are 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.

Cauda equine 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 or bladder function.

Cervical spine: The upper portion of the spine closest to the skull.  The cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae.

Chronic pain: The least common type of back pain.  Chronic pain may come about suddenly or gradually; it generally lasts for 3 months or longer.

Disk: A circular piece of cushioning tissue situated between each vertebrae of the spine.  Each disk has a strong outer cover and a soft jelly-like filling.

Diskectomy: The surgical removal of a herniated disk.  A diskectomy 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 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.

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

Herniated disk: A potentially painful problem in which the hard outer coating of the disk is damaged, allowing the disk’s jelly-like center to leak and cause irritation to adjacent nerves.

Intradiskal electrothermal therapy (IDET): A treatment for herniated disks in which a wire is inserted into the disk 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 disk together.

Kyphoplasty: A procedure for vertebral factures 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.

Laminectomy: 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.  The lumbar spine comprises five vertebrae.

Osteoarthritis: A disease in which the cartilage that cusions 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.

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

Prolotherapy: 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.

Rheumatoid arthritis: A disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the tissue that lines the joints, leading to joint pain, inflammation, instability and deformed joints.

Rolfing: 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 of contribute to back pain.

Sacroiliac joints: The joints where the spine and pelvis attach.  The sacroiliac joints are often affected by various types of arthritis.

Sciatica: Pain felt down the back and outer side of the thigh.  The usual cause is a herniated disk, which is pressing on a nerve root.

Scoliosis: 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 or 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, socliosis, herniated disks and spinal stenosis.

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

Tissue rejection: Tissue rejection occurs when a person’s immune system attacks donor tissue, such as donor bone tissue used for spinal fusion surgery.

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.

Vertebra: The individual bones that make up the spinal column.

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

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