Spinal Program | Spine Glossary

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This reference guide provides definitions for common health terms that you may hear when your child is being treated for an spine related condition. Many terms also have links to additional information on this website. Feel free to ask your child’s doctor, nurse or any of our staff members for further information regarding any term you may still be unfamiliar with.

A-C       D-F       G-I       J-L       M-O       P-R       S-T       U-Z


Movement of a limb or body part away from the midline of your body.

Adams forward bending test
A screening tool for scoliosis.

Adaptive equipment
Equipment that supports a child's positioning needs, such as seating, standing, positioning and mobility, or assists with function.

Adolescent scoliosis
Lateral spinal curvature that appears before skeletal maturity.

The inward movement of an arm or leg toward the body.

Adult scoliosis
Scoliosis of any cause which is present after skeletal maturity

Anterior spinal fusion
A fusion performed on the front of the spine; usually involves replacing inter-vertebral discs with bone

Arthritis (osteoarthritis)
Joint inflammation, resulting in pain, swelling, stiffness and limited movement.

A surgical procedure to open and explore a joint.

Weakening of muscle tissue from lack of use.


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Relating to both sides of the body.

Bone age 
An x-ray of the hand and wrist is compared to the average appearance of the bones at different ages. An estimate of remaining growth is obtained.

Bone graft 
Pieces of bone used to create fusion. Bone graft may be obtained from the patient's iliac crest, rib, wrist, or from the bone bank.

Brace, spinal 
A semi-rigid plastic device, which pushes on muscles and ribs near the spinal column. The brace is designed to decrease the abnormal spinal curvature while worn. 


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Connective tissue found between bones and covering the ends of the bones in joints; allows bones to move smoothly; supports and cushions the skeleton.

An option for holding your child's spine in a straighter position while she's growing; used in specific situations, as in some cases of early-onset (infantile) scoliosis.

Cervical spine 
That portion of the vertebral column contained in the neck, consisting of seven cervical vertebrae between the skull and the rib cage.

Cobb angle
An angular measurement on x-ray to evaluate the severity and degree of scoliosis curve.

Compensatory curve 
In spinal deformity, a secondary curve located above or below the structural curvature, which develops in order to maintain normal body alignment .

Computed tomography (CT, CAT) scan
A non-invasive procedure that uses X-ray equipment and powerful computers to create detailed, cross-sectional images of your child’s body. The CT scanner is a large machine that looks like a big doughnut

Congenital scoliosis
Scoliosis is due to bony abnormalities of the spine present at birth. These anomalies are classified as failure of vertebral formation and/or failure of segmentation. 

The tightening or shortening of a muscle during a short period of time. 

Permanent contraction of a muscle.


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Diagnosis, diagnostics
Identifying disease or injury through examination, testing and observation.

The inter-vertebral disc is a strong, rubbery and gelatin like structure which normally separates the individual vertebral bodies and allows movement between them. Discs are usually removed from the portion of the spine undergoing anterior fusion and replaces with bone chips to create a fusion. 

The removal of all or part of an intervertebral disc (the soft tissue that acts as a shock absorber between the vertebral bodies). 

A dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a joint, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate.

Double curve 
Two lateral curvatures (scoliosis) in the same spine. Double major curve is two lateral curves of equal magnitude, and double thoracic curve is two thoracic curves.

Dual posterior growing rods
Devise affixed to the spine (for early-onset scoliosis). These control spinal deformity while allowing spinal growth with periodic lengthenings.

An abnormal development of tissue; an alteration in the size, shape, and/or organization of cells or tissues. 


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Flexion deformity 
Abnormal positioning of a bone or joint in a bent, or flexed position. 

Fluctuating tone 
Combination of low and high muscle tone.

A partial or complete break in the bone.


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A congenital anomaly of the spine caused by incomplete development of one side of a vertebra resulting in a wedge shape.

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Idiopathic scoliosis
A structural spinal curvature for which cause has not been established.

Infantile idiopathic scoliosis
A classification of idiopathic scoliosis representing about 5 percent of cases; the only type of scoliosis occurring more often in boys from birth to 3 years of age, often self-resolving but sometimes serious.

The metal rods, hooks, screws and wires implemented during spinal fusion surgery to correct the spinal curve and secure the spine in position while the fusion heals and becomes solid.

Internal fixation
Metal screws and pins surgically inserted inside the bone to hold bone fragments in place to allow alignment and healing.


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Juvenile scoliosis
A classification of idiopathic scoliosis representing about 10 percent of cases-occurring in children ages 3 to 9 years.



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Curvature of the spine with the curve pointing toward the front of the body. 


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Soft tissue structure that connects two bones together. Rupture or tearing can lead to pain and/or dysfunction of that joint.

An anterior angulation of the spine in the sagittal plane. Contrast to kyphosis

Lumbar Curve
A spinal curvature whose apex is between the first and fourth lumbar vertebrae (also known as lumbar scoliosis). 

Pertaining to the lumbar and sacral regions of the back. 


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Maldevelopment (dysplasticity)
Condition in which a bone or joint is not properly developed/developing.

Mal-union (mal-alignment)
A condition in which a broken bone heals in a poor alignment or a deformed state (such as an angular deformity); rare in children.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Produces detailed images of organs and structures within the body; best for looking at soft/non-bone tissues such as ligaments, tendons, muscle, and cartilage.

Muscle tone
The amount of tension or resistance to movement in a muscle.


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Affecting, or characteristic of, both neural (nerve) and muscular tissue).

Neuromuscular scoliosis
A form of scoliosis caused by a neurological disorder of the central nervous system or muscle. 

Non-surgical (non-operative) treatments
Alternatives to surgery.


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Orthopedic surgeon, orthopedist
A doctor who specializes in surgical and non-surgical treatment of the skeletal system, spine and associated muscles, joints and ligaments.

The medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, treating, rehabilitating and preventing disorders and injuries to the spine, skeletal system and associated muscles, joints and ligaments.

The science of designing and fitting of devices such as braces to treat orthopedic conditions.

A type of arthritis caused by the inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of articular cartilage in the joints. 

An outgrowth of bone which forms around joints, deforming the joints and limiting their movements; commonly found in joints with osteoarthritis. 

A surgical procedure in which bones are cut and re-orientated, with the goal of improving upper extremity function.


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The mechanical forces of a disease that adversely change the body's structure and function.

Physeal fracture
A break that occurs at, into or across a growth plate; must be treated promptly to avoid growth disturbance or deformity.

Physical therapy
A rehabilitative health specialty that uses therapeutic exercises and equipment to help patients improve or regain muscle strength, mobility and other physical capabilities.

Physis, physes
A growth plate(s) at both ends of a bone; the source of bone growth.

Post-operative (post-op)
After surgery.

Posterior fusion
A technique of stabilizing two or more vertebra by bone grafting. 

Pre-operative (pre-op)
Before surgery.

Progression, curve progression
Worsening of a scoliosis curve.

An artificial body part replacement.


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Range of motion (ROM)
The amount of movement present at a person's joint. 

Rib hump
The bump formed by ribs on the curve, caused by rotation of the spine and attached ribs.

Risser sign
The top of the pelvis bone grows in predictable stages referred to as Risser stages. These give some indication of growth remaining in the spine and rest of the skeleton. 


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Curved triangular bone at the base of the spine, consisting of five fused vertebrae known as sacral vertebrae. 

A hardening of tissue; often occurs in advanced stages of arthritis. 

A spinal abnormality in which the spine, in addition to the normal front to back curvature, has an abnormal side-to-side "S" or "C" shaped curvature.  The spine is also rotated or twisted, pulling the ribs along with it.  Scoliosis occurs in three main types: idiopathic (no definite cause), neuromuscular (associated with neuromuscular diseases) and congenital (present at birth).

Skeletal maturity
When the bones, including the spine, are finished growing, skeletal maturity has been reached.

Spinal column
The spinal column is made up of individual vertebral bones, ligaments and discs. It surrounds the spinal cord.

Spina bifida (myelodysplasia)
A condition in which there's abnormal development of the back bones, spinal cord, surrounding nerves and the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the spinal cord. This neural condition can cause a portion of the spinal cord and the surrounding structures to develop abnormally. Scoliosis is often associated with this condition.

Spinal abnormality (spinal problem)
A condition in which the spine develops abnormally–for example, congenital scoliosis or congenital kyphosis. Some are the result of nerve or muscle (neuromuscular) diseases, injuries or illnesses– for example, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy.  In some cases, there's no definite cause (idiopathic) or means of prevention for the spine's failure to develop normally.

Spinal cord
The spinal cord goes through the spinal column and consists of nerves, which carry and receive signals to and from the brain, arms, legs and many internal organs.

Spinal fusion
Usually a solid fusion (solidification) of the curved part of the  spine, achieved by operating on the spine, adding bone chips and allowing the vertebral bones and bone chips to slowly heal together to form a solid mass of bone called a fusion.

Spine (spinal column, vertebral column)
The series of moving vertebrae forming the axis of the skeleton and protecting the spinal cord.

Spine curves, normal and abnormal
Front-to-back and sideways curves of the spine.  All spines have normal front-to-back curves. Abnormal front-to-back curves can indicate "round back" (hyper-kyphosis) or swayback" (hyper-lordosis). Normal spines do not h ave much sideways curvature. An abnormal sideways "S" or "C" can indicate scoliosis.

An inflammatory disease of the spine.

An anterior displacement of a vertebra on the adjacent lower vertebra.


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A sustained mechanical pull to a limb to correct a dislocation or broken bone.


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A non-invasive diagnostic imaging tool.


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VEPTR™ (titanium rib) procedure
An operation that expands the chest and allows continued growth of the chest and spine. A curved metal rod fits the back of the chest and spine, helping the spine to become straighter and allowing the lungs to grow and fill with enough air to breathe. The device is made longer as your child grows. The procedure is used for some early-onset scoliosis, with the device attaching to the ribs, spine or both.

Vertebra, vertebrae
Individual bones which make up the spinal column.

Vertebral body 
The front portion of the individual vertebra.

Vertebral stapling
A newer surgical technique that may prevent the curve progression in children and adolescents with moderate scoliosis. A minimally invasive procedure, stapling may be an alternative to bracing for some children at risk for progression of their scoliosis and the prospect of spinal fusion in their future.


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X-ray (radiograph)
Diagnostic radiology that shows the dense structures, including bones, inside your child's body.

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