Glossary of Terms


Activities of daily living. Routine self-care, including dressing, eating, personal hygiene, transferring in and out of bed, walking or using a wheelchair, manual tasks and job activities.


Advanced Directive

A written document in which people clearly specify how medical decisions affecting them are to be made if they cannot make decisions or to authorize a specific person to make such decisions for them.


Allograft Bone

Sterile bone derived from another human, which is used for grafting procedures.



To walk. Walking is a very important part of your recovery. You will begin ambulation on the day of surgery unless your doctor specifies otherwise.



Drugs that cause a partial or total loss of sensation, with or without the loss of consciousness. Local anesthetics cause loss of feeling in part of the body, while general anesthesia puts the patient to sleep.



A physician specializing in the field of anesthesiology.


Anterior Spine

The front of your spine, or the side facing the inside of your body.



An evaluation or appraisal of the patient's condition.


Assistive Device

Used to help a person with physical impairment, i.e., cane, walker.



The tough outer rings of the spinal disc.


Alaris or Baxter

A pump that delivers fluids directly into your veins via an intravenous catheter.


Autograft Bone

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


Back Brace

Used to limit the motion of the spine, enhancing the healing process for bone fusion or fracture. The use of a brace sometimes decreases lower back pain and discomfort. Braces can be rigid or elastic. Your surgeon will decide if you require a brace.


Back Precautions

Actions taken in advance to protect the back against possible harm and pain.


Bone Morphogenic Protein (BMP)

A protein that induces the formation of bone and cartilage. Sometimes used in spinal fusion surgery.


Body Mechanics

The application of Kinesiology to the use of proper body movement in daily activities to prevent and correct problems associated with posture and to enhance coordination and endurance.


Bone Graft

Bone tissue used for fusing vertebrae together in spinal surgery. Bone graft may be an autograft or allograft bone or bone morphogenic protein.


Bone Harvesting

The removal of bone for transplantation to another site. The most common sources are the iliac crests.


Bone Spur (Osteophyte)

An abnormal growth of bone usually present in degenerative arthritis or degenerative disease.



Of or pertaining to the neck or region of the neck.


Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Blood clot in a vein, usually in the legs and/or pelvis.


Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

A spinal condition resulting from the normal wear and tear process of aging on your spine. Discs lose flexibility, elasticity and shock-absorbing characteristics and therefore cause discs to become stiff and rigid, restricting movement and causing pain.



The tissue between each vertebra absorbs shock during movement. The disc is composed of the annulus fibrosus and nucleus pulposus.



A method of recording electrical activity generated by the heart muscle.



A flat, plate-like surface that acts as part of a joint, as seen in the spine's vertebra. Each vertebra has two superior and two inferior facets.



A tube placed into the bladder to drain urine.



A small opening where the nerves leave the spinal canal.



A surgical technique in which one or more of the spine's vertebrae are united together so that motion no longer occurs between the vertebrae.


Gait Belt

A leather or nylon device placed around the patient's waist, enabling the caregiver to help the patient walk.


Herniated Disc

The abnormal split or rupture of the spinal disc. The inner gel-like substance, nucleus pulposus, leaks out and can pressure a spinal nerve. Also referred to as ruptured disc and protruding disc.


Iliac Bone

A part of the pelvic bone that is above the hip joint and from which autologous bone grafts are frequently obtained.


Iliac Crest

The large, prominent portion of the pelvic bone at the belt line of the body.



Limitation of motion or fixation of a body part usually promotes healing.


Incentive Spirometer

A device used to measure how well the patient is filling his lungs with each breath. Typically used for people recovering from surgery to help exercise their lungs.



An IV line that has been capped to allow medication to be given intermittently. This gives easy access to medication but frees you from any line or pump on a continuous basis.



Hardware used to make the fusion more stable while the bone heals. Instrumentation allows more solid fusion, including metal plates, cages, rods, screws and wires.



Self-contained suction system whose purpose is to promote healing by draining fluid from the wound or incision, preventing swelling and pooling of blood. The Hemovac is placed at the end of the surgery and removed one to two days after surgery.


Inpatient Surgery

Surgery that requires an overnight stay of one or more days in the hospital. The number of days spent in the hospital after surgery depends on the type of procedure performed.


Intravenous Catheter (IV)

Intravenous line is used to supply liquids through your veins directly to your system. This is used when you are unable to take adequate fluids by mouth.


Jackson Pratt

Self-contained suction system whose purpose is to promote healing by draining fluid from the wound or incision, preventing swelling and pooling of blood. The Jackson Pratt drain is placed at the end of the surgery and removed one to two days after surgery. Also referred to as a rain.



The roof of the vertebrae consists of a thin, flat layer of membrane. An anatomical portion of a vertebra. For each vertebra, two laminae connect the pedicles to the spinous process as part of the neural arch.



A non-medical term for pain in the lumbar region.



Pertaining to the part of the spine between the thoracic and pelvis.



Fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone.


Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS)

Type of surgery that allows the surgeon access to damaged or diseased areas of the spine through smaller incisions using specialized technology such as microscopes and endoscopes.


Muscle Relaxant

Medications that reduce the contractibility of muscle fibers, which in turn may relieve some types of muscle spasm.



A disease or disorder of the spinal cord itself. Myelopathy can occur at any age and usually develops gradually. Myelopathy is often due to spinal cord compression by bone or disc material in the cervical spine.


Neck Brace

Used to limit the motion of the cervical spine, potentially enhancing the fusion healing process.  Using a neck brace or collar sometimes decreases lower neck pain and discomfort. Braces can be rigid or elastic. Your surgeon will decide if you require a brace.


Neck Precautions

Actions taken in advance to protect the neck against possible harm and pain.


Nerve Root

A bundle of nerve fibers emerging from the spinal cord.


Neuro Checks

Measurement of level of consciousness, movement and strength of upper and lower extremities and evaluation of pupil size and reaction.


Neurovascular checks

Performed after surgery to assess nerve function in the area of the surgery. A neurovascular check includes the assessment of sensation, capillary refill and pain.



Nothing by mouth (no liquid or food). From the Latin term, nil per os.


Nucleus Pulposus

Rigid, fibrous outer rings protect the disc's soft center.


Occupational Therapy (OT)

The process of improving the patient's ability to perform activities of daily living.



A brace that prevents or assists the movement of the spine or limbs.



A person who designs, fabricates and fits braces or other physician-approved appliances.


Outpatient Surgery

Refers to surgery that does not require an overnight hospital stay. The patient remains in the recovery area after his/her surgery and may go home after the physician has released him/her.


Patient Care Coordinator

Registered nurse or social worker who works closely with patients, families, doctors and other healthcare team members. Patient Care Coordinators, sometimes called case managers, also arrange post-hospital care services, educate patients and families on discharge options, and provide insurance companies with information regarding hospital coverage and post-hospital care.


Patient Pathway

Guideline for patients that lists tests, treatments, medicines, diet and activities that patients may experience before and after their surgery and in the hospital.



The part of each side of the neural arch of a vertebra. It connects the lamina with the vertebral body.



Device that wraps around each foot and intermittently fills with air, compressing the foot. PlexiPulse® is used to prevent blood clots in the legs.



An infection of the lung.



The rear or back part of a structure.



Refers to a disease of the spinal nerve roots. Radiculopathy produces pain, numbness or weakness radiating from the spine.



A spinal vertebra slips backward over the vertebra beneath it.



Pertaining to the sacrum, the large, triangular bone at the bottom of the pelvis.


SSEP Somatosensory Evoked Potential

The electrical response of the central nervous system produced by an external stimulus. SSEP monitoring is sometimes performed during spinal surgery.


Sequential Compression Device (SCD)

A device worn in the hospital that wraps around a patient's legs from ankle to thigh. The device intermittently fills up with air to gently squeeze the legs and help with circulation in the legs. SCDs are used to prevent blood clots.


Scar Tissue

Fibrotic tissue that is vascular, pale and contracted and occurs with healing.


Spinal Canal

A cavity within the vertebral column through which nerves run.


Spinal Stenosis

The narrowing of the spinal canal that could be caused by excessive bone growth, thickening of tissue in the canal (such as cartilage), or both. This narrowing can squeeze and irritate the spinal cord itself or the spinal nerve roots where they leave the spinal cord.


Spinous Process

Creates the "bumps" felt on the midline of the back.  A spinous process projects backward from the vertebra arch and provides a point of attachment for muscles and ligaments.



Arthritis of the spine often called spinal osteoarthritis.



A spinal vertebra slips forward or backward over the vertebra beneath it.



Sterile skin closure strips placed over an incision after surgery to help the incision heal properly.


T.E.D.® Hose

Long, tight-fitting socks that are often worn postoperatively to assure proper circulation and prevent blood clots in the legs.



Referring to or relating to the chest area.



To move oneself to another location, i.e., from the bed to the chair.



Bones that make up the spine. Sometimes called vertebral bodies.


Vital Signs

The pulse rate, respiration rate, body temperature and blood pressure of a person.



A very light frame device used to support walking.

Source:  Piedmont Spine Surgery Patient Education Guide

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