Common Terms

The following definitions may help you better understand your condition or treatment:

  • Cervical spine. That portion of the spine in your neck.
  • Complete injury. Spinal cord injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia) with no function at all in the arms and legs or no bowel/bladder control below the level of injury. Complete injury often implies a poor prognosis for recovery.
  • Diskectomy. The removal of disc material from the spine to take pressure off of a nerve or the spinal cord.
  • Disc herniation. The process by which a fragment of a disc is displaced from the rest of the disc. The fragment can put pressure on nerve roots or the spinal cord and can cause weakness, pain, and numbness.
  • Fusion. Surgically stabilizing, or eliminating movement, between two vertebrae (spinal bones). Fusion is typically performed when your spine has become so structurally weak that it is dangerous or causing symptoms. Fusion may be performed with or without incorporating metal into the spine, depending on the circumstances.
  • Incomplete injury. Spinal cord injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia) with some voluntary movement or sensation, or bowel/bladder control, below the level of injury. Incomplete injury may suggest a better prognosis for recovery than a complete injury.
  • Instrumentation. The implantation of metal screws and rods into the spine in order to stabilize it. The metal is typically titanium, which allows for safe postoperative MRIs, if needed.
  • Laminectomy. Surgical removal of the "lamina," a part of the vertebra (spinal bone). Laminectomy is typically performed to take pressure off the nerve roots or spinal cord.
  • Lumbar spine. That portion of the spine in your lower back.
  • Myelopathy. Symptoms such as weakness, numbness, pain, paralysis, and loss of bowel/bladder control that are related to compression of the spinal cord.
  • Paraplegia. Severe weakness or paralysis in the legs, often accompanied by loss of bowel/bladder control. Paraplegia can result from a severe trauma to the spine from below the neck.
  • Quadriplegia. Severe weakness or paralysis of the arms and legs, often accompanied by loss of bowel/bladder control. Quadriplegia can result from severe trauma to the spine in the neck.
  • Radiculopathy. Symptoms related to compression of the nerve roots, such as weakness, numbness, pain, paralysis, and loss of bowel/bladder control.
  • Solu-medrol protocol. An intravenous steroid infusion that may help in the early stage of an incomplete spinal cord injury. The infusion may carry significant risk. Treatment is tailored to each patient.
  • Spinal stenosis. A narrowing of the spinal canal, which holds the spinal cord and nerve roots. This narrowing puts pressure on the nerve roots and spinal cord, leading to weakness, pain, or numbness.
  • Spondylolysthesis. "Slippage" of one vertebra over another, which indicates instability of the spine.
  • Thoracic spine. That portion of the spine in the middle of your back, covering the chest region between the shoulder blades. The thoracic spine is found between the cervical spine and the lumbar spine.
  • Vertebra (plural vertebrae). The bones of the spine. The vertebrae are normally aligned, one on top of the other, with discs in between acting as shock absorbers. Vertebrae can be fractured in a trauma.

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