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Here at the Centre for Musculoskeletal Medicine we’ve tried to best explain some of the more complex osteopathy terms. If you’re ever curious or desperately in need following on from an appointment, this glossary might just be your best friend!

Arriving for an appointment at the Osteopath can be confusing at the best of times. Not to mention terms like Acute, Lumbar, Subluxation and Manipulation that will all be thrown around at some stage – You could be forgiven for thinking that you were about to enter into an Icelandic History class! (We’re guessing one of those would be tricky to follow)

Acute:  Of short duration and relatively severe.

Acute back pain: Back pain that lasts a short while, usually a few days to several weeks. Episodes lasting longer than three months are not considered acute.

Adjustment:  A form of manipulation, where the application of force is a high velocity – low amplitude thrust. This type of manipulation can be likened to quickly pulling an apple off of a branch to obtain the specific apple, as opposed to pulling the apple slowly and obtaining multiple apples.

Anomaly: A marked deviation from the normal standard, especially as a result of congenital or hereditary defect

Annulus: The tough outer ring of a spinal disc.  

Arthritis: A general term referring to a condition of the joints. Literally, it refers to an inflammation of the joints. There are many types of arthritis. Many people will suffer from osteoarthritis as they age. Other types include rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.

Bone Spur: An extra calcium deposit resulting from an injury, disease or incorrect motion of position of a joint.

Chronic: Persisting for a long period of time.

Consultation: A specific time set aside between the physician and either the patient and/or family member or interested person for the purpose of discussing the history of the complaint, the complaint and or proposed treatment recommendations. 

Cranial Nerves: 12 pairs of specialised nerves that originate within the cranium or brain cavity.

Degeneration: A wear and tear phenomena. When the joints of the body wear out, it is referred to as osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease.

Disc: A cartilage (cushion/pad) that separates spinal vertebrae, absorbs shock to the spine and helps protect the nervous system. 

Disc Degeneration: Drying, thinning of the disc as a result of accelerated wear and tear.

Dynamic thrust: An adjustment delivered suddenly and forcefully to move vertebrae, often resulting in a popping sound.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation: A physiological therapeutic introduction of electrical stimulation at a predetermined frequency, intensity and rate.

End Plate: The cartilage between the bone of the vertebrae and the disc, to serve as attachment point for the fibres of the disc. 

Facet: The surface of the weight bearing portion of the vertebrae, a part of the posterior joints of the vertebrae.

Herniation: A condition of the intervertebral disc, whereby some of the material which makes up the disc shifts to a position which irritates the nearby nerve for

Homeostasis: This is the tendency to maintain, or the maintenance of, normal, internal stability in an organism by coordinated responses of the organ systems that automatically compensate for changes in the organism.

Hypesthesia: An increased sensitivity to nerve stimulation

Intervertebral: disk The tough cartilage that serves as a cushion between two vertebrae. Each disk has a gelatinous-like centre (nucleus pulposus) that may protrude to form a disk herniation.

Joint: The area between two bones where movement occurs. If movement is abnormal, pain and degeneration may occur.

Joint fixation: Diminished movement within a joint space.

Joint dysfunction: A condition, whereby the joints of a particular area are not moving properly. Any sort of physical trauma may bring this about, along with proposed chemical or mental causes.

Ligament: A band of fibrous tissue that connects bones or cartilages, serving to support and strengthen joints 

Long-lever manipulation: Method of spinal manipulation in which a general technique is used to stretch or loosen several vertebrae at a time.

Lumbar: When discussing the spinal column, this refers to the region of the low back.

Manipulation: A non-specific manual procedure that involves a general thrust to move a joint. 

Misalignment: A radiographic finding, usually measured in millimetres, that represents one or more segments of the spine out of alignment with adjacent segments of the spine. 

Mobilisation: Method of manipulation, movement, or stretching to increase range of motion in muscles and joints that does not involve a high-velocity thrust.

Motion Palpation: Method of locating fixations and loss of mobility in the spine by feeling the motion of specific spinal segments as the patient moves.

Motor: Neurological term to represent that portion of the nerve or joint responsible for activity or motion. 

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging. A diagnostic tool that subjects the patient’s body to massive doses of magnetism to induce an energy reading that the MRI computer interprets as images based upon water content and the hydrogen ion, non-invasive and non-radioactive. 

Muscle spasm  (Fibrositis): Each of us has over 600 voluntary muscles in our bodies that work together to control even the simplest of movements. Muscles work in conjunction with joints, such as cartilage, and bones to provide motion. When the spinal vertebra become misaligned and irritated, it disrupts the nerve muscle relationship and causes a muscle spasm.

Musculoskeletal: Referring to structures involving tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joints.

Nerves: Specialised cells that use chemical reactions to send an impulse from the outside world to the brain and spinal cord. 

Nerve root: One of the two nerve bundles emerging from the spinal cord that join to form a segmental spinal nerve.

Nervous System: The system of nerves including the brain, the cranial nerves, the spinal cord, the spinal nerves, and the peripheral nerves; includes the autonomic (sympathetic and parasympathetic) nerves. 

Neurocalometer: The heat-detecting instrument originally developed in 1924 for locating subluxate vertebrae.

Nociceptors: Specialised nerve receptor (neuron) that is stimulated by injury; a receptor for pain. 

Nucleus, Disc:  Spongy gel-like centre of a spinal disc.  

Osteoarthritis: A slow degeneration of the joints that connect your bones and allow you to move. Ageing, injury, poor posture and excess weight can cause joints to wear down and become stiff and painful. 

Palpation: Examining the spine with your fingers; the art of feeling with the hand.

ParesthesiaAbnormal or loss of normal sensation. 

Physical Therapy: Form of treatment using physical modalities (equipment) to alleviate pain and suffering. 

Pinched Nerves: Laymen’s term for pain perceived to be coming from the back or spine; physically difficult to “pinch” the nerve. 

Plasticity: Tissue that is capable of being formed or shaped. This is a term used to describe developmental changes in the nervous system.

Preventative Care: Care rendered to existing patient; designed to prevent a condition from worsening and/or returning; necessary care usually due to a persistent weakness or permanent impairment. 

Primary Contact Health Care Provider: Any health care provider capable of providing first level contact and intake into the health delivery system, (b) any health care provider licensed to receive patient contact in the absence of physician referral.

Proprioceptors: Sensory nerve terminals which give information concerning movements and position of the body; they occur chiefly in the muscles, tendons, and the labyrinth. 

Radiograph: Proper term for an x-ray film after it has been exposed to radiation (x-ray). 

Radiolucent: An object/item/mass that appears on a radiograph that allows the x-ray to pass through it when in normal circumstances it would not. (e.g., a bone that does not look as dense as the bones around it. 

Radiopaque: An object/item/mass that appears on a radiograph that does not allow the x-ray to pass through it when in normal circumstances it would, (e.g. a bone that looks more dense than the bones around it) 

Range of Motion: The range, measured in degrees of a circle, through which a joint may be moved. 

Realign: To return subluxate vertebrae to a more near normal position.  

Receptor:  A nerve cell that receives specific sensory information in the nervous system.

Sacrum: The triangular shaped bone located just below the Lowest Lumbar vertebrae (L5), formed usually by five fused vertebrae (sacral vertebrae) that are wedged dorsally between the left and right illiums.

Sciatica: An inflammation of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in your body. It runs from your lower spine, through your buttocks, then into your leg and foot. There are actually two (2) sciatic nerves, one in each leg. When the sciatic nerve is inflamed, it can cause numbness, tingling, pain or weakness in your lower back and leg.  

Scoliosis: Scoliosis is an abnormal, curvature of the spine. Scoliosis has many causes; some due to injury while others are inherited. One common reason for scoliosis is abnormal development of the vertebra in the spine. The most common form of scoliosis is an abnormal pattern of muscle and ligament growth as a teenager grows in height.

Sensory: The “feeling” portion of a nerve; as opposed to motor . 

Somato-Visceral: Nerve pathways originating in the spinal cord and communicating with the internal organs. 

Spinal Nerves: 24 pairs of nerves exiting from the spinal cord at segmental levels of the spinal column. 

Spinous Process: A posterior protruding part of the spinal bone that can be seen or felt when examining the spine. 

Spurs: A projecting body, as from a bone. 

Subluxation: When a vertebra of the spine loses its proper position and becomes misaligned with the vertebrae above and below it, thus compromising the nerves, which results in interference of nerve transmissions from the brain to tissues, organs, and muscles. Unfortunately, most subluxations have no pain, so generally many people are not aware of them. Subluxations physically cause your spine to wear unevenly, which leads to early degeneration and break down of the spine. 

Sympathetic: A division of the central nervous system responsible for regulating the various activities of the human body. 

Tendon: A fibrous cord by which a muscle is attached. 

Thermography: A diagnostic procedure that images heat from body surfaces. 

Thoracic vertebrae: There are twelve vertebrae in the thoracic or upper-back portion of the spine.

TMJ Dysfunction: TMJ Dysfunction is a problem with the alignment of the jaw. When the junction of the jaw is out of alignment it can create several problems such as headaches, jaw pain, sinus problems, stiffness in the jaw and muscle tension in the face, head, neck and shoulders.

Torticollis/Tortipelvis: Involuntary spasms of the musculature of the spine, in the neck or low back.

Traction: Either intersegmental or elongation, used to reduce swelling, ease spasms, or assist in the realignment of vertebral segments. 

Ultrasound: High frequency sound waves, sometimes accompanied with a form of electrical muscle stimulation, administered to areas of pain, spasm or other injury.

Vertebra:  A bone of the spine. There are seven (7) cervical vertebrae, twelve (12) thoracic vertebrae and five (5) lumbar vertebrae, as well as those that make up the sacrum and the coccyx.

Vertigo: Sensation of dizziness and the feeling that oneself or one’s surroundings are whirling about.

Wellness: The relationships between health, regular physical activity, and physical fitness.

Whiplash: Whiplash of the neck is caused by any sudden involuntary forced movement of the head in any direction, and the resultant rebound of the head or neck in the opposite direction. Consequently there are injuries to the surrounding and supporting tissues of the neck and head.

X-rays: Ionising radiation, medical imaging tool.

If you are interested in finding out more about the practice of Osteopathy, the Centre For Musculoskeletal Medicine or about your tailored health plan, give our team a call on 03 9699 2499.

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