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Back / Spine Glossary


Articular process: Each vertebra has four (two superior and two inferior) articular processes on its posterior. The articular processes meet and interlock at the facet joints to link one vertebra with the next.

Cauda Equina: The collection of nerves that continue beyond the lower end of the spinal cord, protected by the spinal column. The cauda equina resembles a horse's tail.

Cervical spine: the neck region of the spine

Coccyx: The tailbone. A small triangular bone at the base of the spinal column consisting of several fused rudimentary vertebrae.

Disc: Shock-absorbing cushions separating the vertebrae. Discs have a tough outer coating and a jelly-like inner substance.

Dura Mater: The outermost of the three meninges (membranes) covering the brain and spinal cord. It is a tough fibrous membrane.

Epidural Space: The narrow space between the dura mater and the bony walls of the spinal canal.

Epidural: An injection into the epidural space.

Facet Joints: The facet joints join adjacent vertebrae and allow the vertebrae to move on one another.

Intervertebral Foramen (plural: intervertebral foramina): The opening formed between adjacent vertebrae from which the spinal nerves exit. There is an opening on each side.

Ligaments: Fibrous tissue that tie together the vertebrae

Lumbar spine: lower part of the spine

Meninges: the three membranes enclosing the spinal cord and brain - the pia mater, arachnoid, and dura mater.

Sacrum: A triangular bone made up of five fused vertebrae, both a part of the spine and forming the posterior section of the pelvis.

Sciatic nerve: A sensory and motor nerve, the sciatic nerve originates in the lumbar and sacral areas of the spinal column. The sciatic nerve is formed by several nerve roots that extend beyond the lower end of the spinal cord and converge. (The spinal cord at the second lumbar vertebrae). Its two branches run through the pelvis, deep into each side of the buttocks, through the hip, the backside of the upper leg down to the foot. . The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body - the diameter of a finger.

Scoliosis: Abnormal lateral (side-to-side) curvature of the spine - often congenital - with rotation of the vertebrae within the curve.

Spinal Canal: see Vertebral Canal

Spinal Column: see Vertebral Column

Spinal cord: Runs from the brain down to the level of the second lumbar vertebrae, through the spinal column. The spinal cord transmits messages from the brain to other parts of the body and vice versa.

Spinous Process: a bony projection from the posterior part of a vertebra that serves as an attachment for muscles and ligaments.

Thoracic spine: the area of the spine that is chest level

Tranverse Process: a bony projection from either side of the posterior of a vertebra that serves as an attachment for muscles and ligaments.

Vertebra: any one of the bones forming the spinal column. The two main parts of the vertebra are the vertebral body (the anterior segment) and the vertebral arch (the posterior part).

Vertebral Arch: The posterior part of a vertebra; the vertebral arch has several processes (bony projections). See articular process, spinous process, transverse process.

Vertebral Body: The anterior segment and largest part of a vertebra, basically cylindrical in shape.

Vertebral Canal:
Also called spinal canal, the vertebral canal is the large canal in the center of the vertebral column that contains the spinal cord and its membranes.

Vertebral Column (also called the spinal column) contains is comprised of a column of small bones called vertebrae. The vertebral column supports the body and head and protects the spinal cord. The spinal column is flexible to allow movement of the body. Shock absorbing discs separate the vertebrae.