We commonly find that many people are confused by the numerous medical terms they hear, so here is a brief overview and explanation of the most used terms when dealing with the spine.


Spinal Cord

    – the long bundle of nervous tissue coming from the brain

Nervous System

    – the system of nerves, nerve centres, tissues and organs responsible for responding to external and internal stimuli to the body; this system is divided into the Central and Peripheral Nervous System

Central Nervous System

    – made up of the brain and spinal cord

Peripheral Nervous System

    – consists of the sensory nervous system that carries information to the brain and the motor nervous system that delivers information from the brain to the organs, muscles and glands

Spinal Canal

    – the central cavity in the vertebral body (bone) that contains the spinal cord; it may also be called the central canal or vertebral canal


    – narrowing of the canal of a vertebra, which can occur in the central or side canals and can often cause compression of the nerves that lie in the canal

Spinous Process

    – the backward protrusion of the vertebra and the attachment point of the muscles of the spine

Spinal Fusion

    – a surgical procedure which fuses or fixes one vertebra to the adjacent one, used to eliminate or reduce pain caused by excessive movement of a damaged disc or joint


    – the exaggerated backward curvature of the thoracic area which produces the so-called ‘humpback’ or ‘dowager’s hump’, often seen in people with osteoporosis


    – describes pain extending from the buttock into the leg which may radiate below the knee and into the foot