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Back Injuries and Those Complicated Names

Posted by Kale Isaacson on Oct 19, 2011 8:41:00 AM

BackSo you injure your back and go to the doctor for help. You are examined and then some X-rays and maybe an MRI. The doctor then comes back with some type of term, called a diagnosis you might have heard before but don’t know what it specifically means, or some other Latin gobbledygook that you have NO idea about. So in this Blog, I will attempt to explain all of the in’s and out’s of “back injury terminology”. Click here to reference another blog about the Anatomy of the Spine.


A Strain refers to a muscle or tendon injury. When the muscle is over-stretched or overloaded, fibers tear creating a strain. For background information, a tendon attaches a muscle to a bone so that when the muscle contracts, the tendon pulls on the bone to make it move. A Sprain refers to a Ligament or Connective Tissue injury. Ligaments are not meant to stretch. They are meant to hold 2 bones together so that the joint moves correctly. So when a joint is overstretched, fibers of the ligament tear creating a sprain. Connective tissue does exactly what the name implies: it connects things together; primarily, a bone to a bone, or it connects different muscles together through something called Fascia.


The disc between every 2 vertebrae acts as a cushion to absorb shock with movement, lifting, running or jumping. Sometimes the outer wall of the disc weakens and the jelly-like inner material will bulge out. This is usually caused by repeated stresses, lifting and /or repeated forward flexion of the lower back. The majority of disc injuries can be healed by conservative treatments such as Physical Therapy.       


This diagnosis scares patients because it has the word “disease” in it. As we age, the jelly-like substance in the middle of the discs loses water. When this happens, the height of the disc begins to shrink and the disc’s ability to absorb shock and support the weight of the body decreases. The vertebra above then collapses down on the vertebra below. This places undue stress on the spinal joints of the lower back which can result in increased arthritic changes.


The word root “Spondy-” is Latin for spine and the ending,“-losis” means degeneration. So, Spondylosis means degeneration or arthritis of the spine. Spinal Stenosis is much different. Stenosis is the medical term for narrowing. Spinal Stenosis is a result of arthritic changes within the spine. Specifically, narrowing of the canal part of the spine which houses the spinal cord and/or the nerves that exit the spine. This condition can pinch these nerves causing pain, weakness, and/or numbness/tingling in the legs and feet.


This is a condition in which the vertebra on top slides forward on the vertebra below. The slipping occurs because the “arms” of the vertebra break. Spondylolisthesis can be potentially more serious, but the ligaments that attach the vertebra together and the muscles can  hold everything together. This is a condition where Physical Therapy can greatly help.

So, there you have it. A little Latin breakdown and some anatomy terms explained and you understand your doctor! I hope this has been a useful, easily understood Blog. If you have an questions, ask them below.Spine Diagram

Topics: physical therapy, injuries