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Chiropractic Terms and Definitions

Activator – An instrument which utilizes a light force to adjust the spine. It is also the name of a chiropractic technique which focuses on the use of this instrument. It was designed by Dr. Arlan Fuhr, and delivers a quick and precise adjustment to the spine to help reduce subluxations.

Acupressure – An art where pressure is applied to specific acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating neurological flow to various organs, glands or tissues to balance the energy of the body.

Acupuncture – The art and science of using needles or other stimulation of reflex centers throughout the body to create change within organs, glands, and tissues with intent to return the body to normal function.

Acute Back Pain – This is back pain from a recent injury or is endured for a short period of time. As opposed to chronic low back pain, which is persistent over an extended period of time.

Adjustment – Spinal adjustment and chiropractic adjustment are terms used by chiropractors to describe their approaches to spinal manipulation, as well as some osteopaths, who use the term adjustment. An adjustment occurs when force is applied to a joint in order to increase mobility and change the alignment of bones in the body.

Afferentation – The process of stimulating receptors of a specific type from the peripheral nervous system sending impulses containing specific information into the central nervous system.

Annulus – The tough outer ring of a spinal disc.

Atlas – The first bone of the human spine, located directly below the head. Also known as C1 or cervical vertebra #1.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – This is a ligament of the knee that prevents the lower leg from sliding forward under the weight of the upper leg. When this ligament is torn, the knee will glide forward abnormally when the lower leg is pulled forward by an examining physician. Injuries to the ligament range from mild sprains to a complete tear and are treated differently according to severity.

Arthritis – A condition that damages the articular surfaces within a joint. Arthritis has many different forms and occurs for a number of different reasons. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis which results from trauma (car accidents, etc.), age, or infection.

Axis – The second vertebra of the spine, located directly below the Atlas. Also known as C2 or cervical vertebra #2.

Biomechanics -The study of the application of mechanical laws and the action of forces to living structures; the study of how the body moves.

Bursitis – A condition in which the bursa, or fluid-filled sacks that cushion many joints, become swollen and inflamed.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) – A condition caused by compression of the median nerve travelling through the carpal tunnel. CTS affects the hands since it is an upper limb neuropathy that results in motor and sensory disturbance of the median nerve. Common symptoms include pain, parasthesia, and weakness of the hand and wrist.

Cavitation – Pop that occurs in a spinal joint when vertebral surfaces facets are separated to create a vacuum that pulls in nitrogen gas.

Central Nervous System – Consists of the brain and spinal cord.

Cerebellum – The part of the brain that controls balance, posture and coordination of muscular movements.

Cerebral Cortex – The part of your brain that coordinates all sensory and motor activities. Different areas of it are specifically associated with memory, learning and behavior.

Cervical Spine – The top 7 vertebra of the human spine, also commonly known as the neck.

Cervicogenic Headache – Commonly seen in individuals suffering from neck pain or whiplash. These headaches often result from muscle tightness in the upper neck that puts pressure on the nerves that innervate the scalp and face. The pressure causes irritation of the nerves and one perceives this nerve irritation as a headache.

Chiropractic – A health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.

Chiropractor – One who practices chiropractic care.

Chronic Back Pain – Back pain that persists for an extended period of time. Not treating pain when it initially occurs can lead to a problem becoming chronic in nature if the pain persists.

Coccyx – The final segment of the vertebral column. Commonly known as the tail bone. It is formed by three to five fused vertebrae (the coccygeal vertebrae) below the sacrum. Misalignment or injury can cause pain at the base of the tail bone.

Compressive Neuropathy – Damage to a nerve caused by direct pressure by another structure. This is seen in patients with advanced degenerative disc disease as well as with a number of other problems. Symptoms range from a feeling of pins and needles, numbness, or shooting pain to more severe symptoms where the nerve is damaged beyond function.

Cox Flexion Distraction Technique – A chiropractic technique that utilizes a table that is able to pivot in multiple directions. The chiropractor will anchor, or hold, a specific spot and then use the table to move a portion of the body to increase the range of motion in a joint segment.

Cranium –The skull or bony structure that houses the brain and connects to the top of the vertebral column.

Cryotherapy – The use of ice/ice packs to treat acute injuries. Its goal is to decrease cellular metabolism, pain, inflammation, and spasm and to increase cellular survival and promote vasoconstriction.

D.C. – The suffix used by one who has earned the degree of Doctor of Chiropractic.

Diagnosis – The process of attempting to determine the identity of a possible disease or disorder.

Disc Herniation – A condition of the intervertebral disc where the outer portion of the disc is weak and the soft, jelly-like portion of the center of the disc pushes into the outer fibers causing the disc to bulge out. These commonly happen in areas of the disc where they can put pressure on nerves exiting the spine at that area. The pressure on those nerves can cause different symptoms and levels of pain depending on the nerve involved, the severity of the bulge, and other factors.

Diversified –The most commonly used of all Chiropractic techniques. The practitioner’s hands are primarily used for the spinal correction. Many times an audible snap or pop is heard when the adjustment is performed.

Dynamic Thrust – A sudden force that causes an audible release and attempts to increase a joint’s range of motion.

Electric Stimulation – The use of a small electric current sent through the body superficially to control pain, increase blood and lymphatic circulation, reduce muscle spasm, relax or stimulate the nervous system or aid in the healing process.

End Plate – The area at the end of long bones of the body which are typically where the bones articulate with, or contact, other bones.

Ergonomics – The science of designing jobs, equipment and workplaces to fit workers. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries, which can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability.

Extensors – Any muscle of the body that operates to extend a body part.

Facet Joints – Synovial joints between the superior articular process of one vertebra and the inferior articular process of the vertebra directly above it. There are two facet joints in each spinal motion segment. The function of each pair of facet joints is to guide and limit movement of the spinal motion segment. Also known as zygapophysial joints.

Flexion – The bending of a part of the body forward or anteriorly.

Flexors – Any muscle of the body that operates to flex a body part.

Foraminal Stenosis – A condition in which a neural foramen becomes narrowed. The spinal nerves of the human body exit the spinal column through openings called neural foramina (foramen is the singular term). Arthritis and other conditions can cause the size of a foramen to decrease. When a foramen stenoses, or grows smaller, it can result in pressure on the nerve root which can cause pain at the point where it is occurring or throughout the distribution of that nerve fibers. For example, foraminal stenosis in the cervical spine or neck area can cause pain into the arms because the nerves that go to the arms originate in the neck.

Golfer’s Elbow –The common name for a condition known as medial epicondylitis. It is normally a repetitive stress injury meaning that the problem usually occurs in individuals that do the same movements over and over again. The anterior forearm contains several muscles that are involved with flexing the fingers and thumb, and flexing and pronating the wrist. The tendons of these muscles come together and attach at the medial epicondyle of the humerus at the elbow joint. When a golfer strikes the ball there is a lot of stress where the muscles insert to the inside of the elbow. With a lot of golfing, the tendons attaching those muscles suffer repeated minor injuries and inflammation can set in, causing pain.

Heat Therapy – Most commonly used for rehabilitation purposes. The therapeutic effects of heat include increasing the extensibility of collagen tissues; decreasing joint stiffness; reducing pain; relieving muscle spasms; reducing inflammation, edema, and aiding in the post acute phase of healing; and increasing blood flow. The increased blood flow to the affected area provides proteins, nutrients, and oxygen for better healing

Innate Intelligence – The intelligence of the body to be able to heal itself.

Intervertebral Disc – These lie between adjacent vertebrae in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine in daily life. They also help to anchor adjacent vertebra to one another and provide the space need for nerves to exit the spine via neural foramina.

Intersegmental Traction – A way of inducing passive motion into the spine. It works by increasing mobility and decreasing fixation in the spine. The patient is laid face up on a table which has rollers beneath its surface. The rollers travel up and down the back of the individual gently stretching the spinal joints.

Joint – The location at which two or more bones make contact. They are constructed to allow movement and provide mechanical support for the human body.

Kyphosis or Kyphotic Curve – A curve of the spine seen when viewing a patient from the side. A kyphotic curve is one that is from the front to the back whose peak is posterior to the person, as seen in the upper back of most individuals.

Laminectomy – A surgical procedure in which the lamina of a vertebra is removed. This is often done in an effort to reduce the amount of pressure on a spinal nerve or other nervous system tissue in the immediate area. The most common use of a spinal laminectomy surgery is in the treatment of spinal stenosis.

Ligament – Fibrous tissue that connects bones to other bones. Ligaments, among other things, form the capsules that surround most of our joints.

Listing (x-ray) – A notation as to the position of a specific vertebrae. A listing may describe whether it has rotated or tilted in a specific direction. A chiropractor may view x-rays and make notes as to listings at certain vertebral levels of the spine which are abnormal.

Long Lever Manipulation – Adjusting an area of the back by applying pressure to a different area of the body.

Lordosis or Lordotic Curve – A curve of the spine from front to back where the peak is seen anteriorly.

Low Force Adjusting – Low force refers to light chiropractic adjusting which is administered to correct a spinal subluxation. These techniques are commonly used with the young, elderly, or those suffering from osteoporosis or other diseases that increase the likelihood of bone fractures in an individual. Examples: Activator, Toftness, SOT, Trigger Point Therapy, Logan Basic, etc.

Lumbar Roll – The chiropractor positions the patient on his or her side, then applies a quick and precise manipulative thrust to the area of the low back being treated. Also known as side posture.

Lumbar Spine – A name for the lowest vertebra of the back and do not have ribs that attach or articulate with them. There are normally 5 lumbar vertebra in the human spine, but an individual may have more or less.

Lumbar Sprain/Strain – A sprain/strain injury of the low back area. See also sprain/strain.

Maintenance Care – Treating of the spine for relief of mild to moderate fixation that is beyond what is known as acute care. Maintenance care is generally not covered by health and auto insurers.

Manipulation – Therapeutic intervention performed on synovial joints in the spinal column. In simpler terms, the moving of the bones of a joint to decrease local nerve irritation and decrease fixation of a joint.

Massage – Massage is the gentle kneading of soft tissues used to increase circulation, decrease pain, relieve adhesions, and increase mobility.

Mercy Guidelines – The common name for the report issued following the chiropractic consensus conference held at the Mercy Conference Center in Burlingame, CA, in 1992. The report was a step toward establishing parameters and guidelines for the profession. Many insurance companies use it as a guide to the appropriateness of chiropractic treatment.

Migraine – A neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily perceptions, severe headaches, and nausea. Migraine headaches are a neurological condition more common to women than to men. The typical migraine headache is unilateral (affecting one half of the head) and pulsating, lasting from 4 to 72 hours; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and phonophobia (increased sensitivity to sound). Approximately one-third of people who suffer from migraine headaches perceive an aura – an unusual visual, olfactory, or other sensory experiences that are a sign that the migraine will soon occur.

Medulla Oblongata – Commonly referred to simply as the medulla, it is the lower half of the brainstem. The medulla contains the cardiac, respiratory, vomiting and vasomotor centers of the body and also deals with other autonomic functions, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.

Misalignment ­– A radiographic finding, usually measured in millimeters, that exhibits one or more segments of the spine out of alignment with adjacent segments of the spine.

Mobilization – Another term for manipulation or adjustment.

Motion Palpation – Palpation is the use of the hands to feel for abnormalities of the human body. Motion palpation takes this a step further. The chiropractor will move a specific joint or multiple joints in a region and assess whether the joint or joints are moving fully and properly.

Muscle – Made up of individual fibers that all travel in the same direction and, when flexed, cause the skeleton to move and allows specific movements. Injured muscle fibers are repaired by the body with scar tissue.

Musculoskeletal – Anything relating to the muscles or skeleton of the body.

Nerve Root – The initial segments of nerves as they leave the spinal cord. Many nerve roots will combine with other nerves before forming peripheral nerves that innervate the extremities and other areas of the human body. When nerve roots are damaged they may exhibit specific pain patterns that allow the chiropractor to more accurately diagnose and treat the issues of a patient.

Neuritis – Inflammation of a nerve.

Nutrition – The art of correcting dietary deficiencies, which can result in abnormal tissue function and certain diseases. Doctors prescribe specific vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, herbs, etc., or simply instruct the patient on how to change their overall dietary habits.

Orthotics – Devices designed to treat or adjust various biomechanical foot disorders. Orthotics are placed in the shoes and help keep feet in proper alignment by supporting various parts of the foot properly.

Osteoarthritis (OA) – A group of mechanical abnormalities involving degradation of joints, including articular cartilage and subchondral bone. Symptoms may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking, and sometimes effusion (swelling). A variety of causes – hereditary, developmental, metabolic, and mechanical – may initiate processes leading to loss of cartilage. When bone surfaces become less protected by cartilage, bone may be exposed and damaged. As a result of decreased movement secondary to pain, regional muscles may atrophy, and ligaments may become more lax. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis affecting nearly 27 million people in the United States. Chiropractic care proves very helpful in decreasing pain and improving function for many people who suffer from this disease. Also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease.

Osteophytes – Bony spurs that form along joints. Spurs usually limit joint movement and typically cause pain.

Osteoporosis – A disease of the bones that leads to an increased risk of fracture. Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’. In osteoporosis the bone mineral density (BMD) is reduced, bone architecture is disrupted, and the amount and variety of proteins in bone is altered. Osteoporosis is most commonly seen in post-menopausal women.

Parasthesia – A sensation of tingling or numbness of the skin. People commonly refer to the sensation as a body part feeling like it has “fallen asleep.”

Pars Interarticularis – The bony bridges that connect the anterior and posterior parts of most of the vertebra of the spine. Fractures of these are commonly seen in hyperextension injuries of the lumbar spine.

Pelvic Blocking – An adjusting technique for the pelvis where the patient is positioned either face up or down with wedge-shaped blocks placed in specific areas to facilitate proper positioning of the pelvis. Patient is generally required to lie for a short period of time in the specified position while the adjustment occurs.

Peripheral Neuropathy – Damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system, which may be caused either by diseases of the nerve or from the side-effects of systemic illness.

Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) – Consists of the nerves and ganglia outside of the brain and the spinal cord.

Piriformis Syndrome – A neuromuscular disorder that occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed or otherwise irritated by the piriformis muscle causing pain, tingling and numbness in the buttocks and along the path of the sciatic nerve descending down the lower thigh and into the leg.

Plantar Fascitis – A painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. The pain is usually felt on the underside of the heel and is often most intense with the first steps of the day. The problem is most common in people who spend a lot of time on their feet or bearing weight.

PI – An abbreviation for personal injury. Personal injury cases are cases where an individual has been injured due to an accident or other occurrence and there is usually a third-party payer (insurance company, etc.) involved.

Primary Care Provider – Any health care provider which by law, expertise and professional ethics, may accept patients without referral. Examples: D.C., M.D., D.O., D.P.M., D.D.S., D.D.M.

Radiology – The use and study of x-rays to examine structural integrity, skeletal alignment, and detect possible pathologies in individuals.

Radiculopathy – Description of a problem in which one or more nerves are affected and do not work properly (a neuropathy). This can result in pain, weakness, numbness or difficulty controlling specific muscles. In a radiculopathy, the problem is at or near the root of the nerve along the spine. However, the pain or other symptoms may manifest in an extremity; this is called radicular pain. The pain is often described as “sharp,” “lancing,” or “lightning-like.”

Range of Motion – The amount of movement which occurs at a particular joint or region of the body. In the spinal column, there are six different movements which are typically assessed. These include flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), rotation (turning right and left) and lateral flexion (bending to the right and left).

Rheumatoid Arthritis – A chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks synovial joints. The process produces an inflammatory response of the synovium (synovitis) secondary to hyperplasia of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development of pannus in the synovium.

Sacroiliac Joint – The joints between the three bones that form the bulk of the pelvis. Typically, there are two ilia that articulate with the sacrum of the pelvis in the center. The pelvis acts as the foundation for the spine. Sacroiliac joints are a common source of low back pain. Also known as an SI joint.

Sacrum – The center bone of the three bones that form the pelvis. It is also the bone upon which the spine is “stacked.” If the sacrum is not positioned correctly, it may cause problems in other areas of the spine.

Scheuermann’s Disease – A condition where the vertebrae grow unevenly; the anterior angle is often greater than the posterior. This typically results in the signature “wedging” shape of the vertebrae, resulting in kyphosis.

SMT – An abbreviation for Spinal Manipulative Therapy, another term for adjustment, spinal manipulation, and spinal mobilization.

Sciatic Nerve – A large nerve fiber that begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the lower limb. It is the longest and widest single nerve in the human body. The sciatic supplies nearly the whole of the skin of the leg, the muscles of the back of the thigh, and many of those of the leg and foot. It is derived from spinal nerves L4 through S3 and contains fibers from both the anterior and posterior divisions of the lumbosacral plexus.

Sciatica – A set of symptoms including pain that may be caused by general compression and/or irritation of one of five spinal nerve roots that give rise to each sciatic nerve, or by compression or irritation of the left or right or both sciatic nerves. Pain is felt in the lower back, buttock, and/or various parts of the leg and foot. In addition to pain, which is sometimes severe, there may be numbness, muscular weakness, pins and needles or tingling and difficulty in moving or controlling the leg. Typically, the symptoms are only felt on one side of the body.

Scoliosis – A medical condition in which the spine is curved from side to side. Although it is a complex three-dimensional deformity, on an x-ray, viewed from the rear, the spine of an individual with scoliosis may look more like an “S” or a “C” than a straight line. It affects approximately 20 million people in the United States. Treatment with Chiropractic can be beneficial in many cases.

Sleep Apnea – A sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Similarly, each abnormally low breathing event is called a hypopnea. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or a “sleep study”.

Slipped Disc – A spinal disc herniation, informally and misleadingly called a slipped disc, is a condition affecting the spine, in which a tear in the outer, fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus) of an intervertebral disc allows the soft, central portion (nucleus pulposus) to bulge out. The bulge can cause pain by placing direct pressure on nerve roots in the area. This tear in the disc ring may result in the release of inflammatory chemical mediators which may directly cause severe pain, even in the absence of nerve root compression.

Spinal Adjustment – See adjustment.

Spinal Manipulation – See adjustment.

Spinal Column – A supportive and protective column of bone that runs from the base of the skull to the base of the back, constructed of 33 vertebra. Of these vertebra, 9 are typically fused into 2 bones at the base of the spine called the sacrum and coccyx. The rest of the spine is separated into three sections: the cervical spine (neck area) has 7 vertebra, the thoracic spine (mid-back area) has 12 vertebra, and the lumbar spine (low-back area) has 5 vertebra. The vertebra of the thoracic spine join with the ribs of the torso to form the rib cage which protects many internal organs. The spinal nerves that exit between the vertebral levels innervate the body.

Spinal Cord – The nervous tissue which connects the brain to the nerves that go to the rest of the body. It is protected within the spinal column.

Spondylolisthesis – Anterior displacement of a vertebra or the vertebral column in relation to the vertebrae below, most commonly seen in the lower lumbar spine. This may be due to a fracture of the pars interarticularis of a vertebra or degeneration of the posterior facets of a vertebra. These are generally well-managed with chiropractic care, but in some cases require surgical fusion to prevent sever neurological consequences.

Sprain – An injury in which the fibers of a ligament have been damaged. These can vary in severity from minor damage where only a small percentage of the fibers have been damage to a complete tear of a ligament. Sprains are common and can occur almost anywhere the body has ligaments. Automobile accidents commonly result in sprains of spinal ligaments. Ankle and knee sprains are common occurrences in sports as well as daily life.

Sprain/Strain Injury – An injury in which both the muscles and ligaments of a specific joint or a region of the body have received damage. These injuries are commonly seen in car accidents, sporting accidents, whiplash injuries, etc.

Strain – An injury to the fibers of a muscle. These can vary in severity from minor damage where only a small percentage of the fibers have been damage to a complete tear of a muscle.

Subluxation – A dysfunctional biomechanical spinal segment (lesion) whose dysfunction actively alters neurological function, which in turn, is believed to lead to neuromusculoskeletal and visceral disorders. Or put more simply, it is a bone which is not in the proper place or orientation in relation to the ones it attaches to or is part of a couple of vertebra that do not move correctly in regards to one another.

Symptom – A departure from normal function or feeling which is noticed by a patient, indicating the presence of disease or abnormality.

Thoracic Spine –The area of the back between the neck and low back, commonly referred to as the upper back. The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebra and help to form the rib cage of the skeleton.

Vertebra – The bones that form the spinal column. They are connected to one another by discs, ligaments, and synovial articulations.

Webster Technique – A specialized Chiropractic technique developed by Dr. Larry Webster, founder of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association. This technique is used to correct subluxations in the sacrum and pelvis of pregnant women that balances the mother’s pelvic muscles and ligaments. This technique decreases stress on the muscles of the uterus allowing the uterus to relax which allows the baby within greater ability to move into proper birthing position.