Definitions of Common Scoliosis Terms

Adolescent scoliosis A lateral spinal curvature that appears before the onset of puberty and before an individual is skeletally mature

AIS Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

allograft Bone for spine grafting taken from a human cadaver

anterior The front, or from the front. The opposite is posterior (back, or from the back).

A/P Anterior/posterior, in the context of (1) an A/P x-ray, which is taken with the patient facing the x-ray machine, or (2) scoliosis surgery in which incisions are made both from the front (anterior) and from the back (posterior).

apex The most deviated vertebra in a scoliotic spine; the “peak” of a curve. There may be more than one apex if there are multiple curves.

autologous In the context of donating blood, this means donating your own blood for use during your surgery

autogenous see autograft

autograft Bone for grafting material taken from your ribs or pelvis that will be used during your surgery

bending films/x-rays X-rays of your back taken while you are laying down and bending your torso as hard as you can to the right or left. These indicate how flexible your spine is and can be used to predict how much correction scoliosis surgery may achieve in your case. Also called stretch films.

BMP Bone Morphogenetic Protein, a natural material used to augment bone grafts. BMP may increase the likelihood of a successful fusion and can accelerate the rate at which the fusion process takes place.

bone-on-bone The bringing together of two vertebrae such that one rests directly on the other after the intervertebral discs between them are removed

cervical The section of spine in the neck, above the thoracic section. The cervical section of the spine comprises seven vertebrae.

Cobb method or Cobb angle The name of the method by which the severity of a scoliotic curve is measured (the Cobb Method). The resulting degree measurement is called the Cobb angle. Here's a sample chapter from the book about measuring a Cobb angle.

coccyx The lowest part of the spine, also called the tailbone

compensation In the context of scoliosis surgery, an individual is said to be compensated when his or her head is centered above the pelvis. The opposite of decompensation.

compensatory curve A secondary curve (there are sometimes two) that develops in order to help maintain normal body alignment (compensation)

concave The inside of a curve. Concave is the opposite of convex.

congenital scoliosis Scoliosis caused by a condition (typically, malformed vertebrae) with which one was born

contraindicated Not appropriate for—the opposite of indicated

convex The outside of a curve (the opposite of concave). A curve that bends to the right (from the perspective of the person with scoliosis) is said to have right convexity.

crankshaft effect A phenomenon that may affect individuals who have scoliosis surgery before reaching skeletal maturity in which the front (anterior) portion of the spine continues to grow and deform while the rear (posterior) portion remains held in place. This leads to a unique spinal deformation.

DBM Demineralized Bone Matrix, a variant of traditional allograft bone that uses extracted proteins taken from a human cadaver to enhance fusion

decompensation A potential outcome of scoliosis surgery in which the spine becomes imbalanced such that the head is not centered over the pelvis

discectomy The surgical removal of all or part of one or more intervertebral discs. Also spelled diskectomy.

discs, intervertebral Rings of cartilage surrounding a spongy core that separate two vertebrae and cushion impacts to the spine

double major curve Also called an “S” curve, this refers to a scoliotic spine with two major (structural) curves

endoscopic A surgical method in which an endoscope—an instrument with a tiny video camera inside it—is used to visually explore the chest cavity. Also called thoracoscopic.

facet joints The bony parts of a vertebra that connect it to other vertebrae

flatback A condition in which the normal lordosis (inward curve) of the lower back is lost and the lower back instead appears flat

Foley catheter The name of the tube inserted into one’s urethra to drain urine after surgery

fusion The surgical process of transforming two or more adjacent vertebrae into one solid, continuous piece of bone

graft Fragments of bone taken from one’s own body or from a cadaver and placed at the spinal fusion site to promote the fusion process

Harrington rod The name of the first instrument (rods) used in scoliosis surgery to stabilize a scoliotic curve

hemothorax A surgical complication involving the inadvertent drainage of blood into the lungs

idiopathic Unknown origin or cause. Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, though there is now a known genetic component to the disorder.

indicated Appropriate for (in the context of a particular medicine or procedure)

instrumentation Hardware (rods, screws, hooks, etc.) used to straighten and hold a scoliotic curve

IV Acronym for intravenous. An “IV” is a system that continuously delivers medicines, blood, or other fluids into your body through a needle inserted into a vein.

kyphosis This word has two somewhat conflicting meanings. It means both the normal curve of the upper back and it is sometimes used to describe an excess curvature (a condition commonly called hunchback or roundback). The implied meaning is usually clear in context. For example, a surgeon might say that he “can surgically restore normal kyphosis,” or that one has “moderate scoliosis with just mild kyphosis.”

lateral Side-to-side. A scoliotic spine has a lateral curvature as opposed to a front-to-back curvature (though an individual with scoliosis may also have the latter).

level(s) A number of vertebrae. Usually used in the context of discussing how many vertebrae will be fused or instrumented (“We need to fuse five levels”). Also called segment(s).

levo scoliosis A scoliosis curve that bends to the left. Opposite of dextroscoliosis, which is a curve that bends right.

logrolling A procedure used in hospitals while a patient is recovering in bed to turn the patient on either of his or her sides without bending or twisting the back. This is done by placing a sheet under the patient and then having one or two nurses carefully pull up one side of the sheet to roll the patient to the other side.

lordosis This word has two somewhat conflicting meanings. It means both the normal inward curve of the lower back and it is sometimes used to describe the absence of that normal curve (a condition commonly called flat back). The implied meaning is usually clear in context.

lumbar The lowest region of the spine, comprising five vertebrae. Above the lumbar region is the thoracic region, and below it is the sacrum.

midline A conceptual vertical line that indicates the true left-right midpoint of the spine

morselized bone Ground-up bone fragments used as grafts to promote fusion

narcotic analgesic A class of strong painkilling medications that may be addictive

nonstructural curve A curvature that is not fixed, or rigid. Often called a compensatory, secondary, or minor curve.

nonstructural scoliosis A generally mild, temporary case of scoliosis caused by poor posture, injury, or illness

NSAID Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. Most commonly, these are known as over-the-counter painkillers like Advil, Aleve, and aspirin. Compared to narcotics, these are less powerful and have fewer side effects. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not an anti-inflammatory drug and is not in this class. Some stronger NSAIDs require a prescription.

orthopedics The branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the skeletal system

orthopedist Synonym for orthopedic surgeon

osteotomy The separation of a fused portion of spine into distinct segments that approximate vertebrae. Essentially the reverse of spinal fusion.

P/A Posterior/anterior, usually in the context of a P/A x-ray, which is taken with the patient facing away from the x-ray machine

PCA Patient Controlled Analgesia. A PCA is a machine that administers a continuous dosage of painkilling medication intravenously to a patient and also allows the patient to augment the continuous dosage with extra bursts of medication as needed.

pedicle The part of a vertebra that connects the rear (posterior) elements of the vertebra to the anterior (front) of the vertebra, which is also called the vertebral body. Pedicle screws would be placed in this section of bone.

pleura The outer lining of the lung

pneumothorax A possible surgical complication of scoliosis surgery, a pneumothorax is air temporarily trapped between the lung and chest wall.

posterior The back, or from the back (rear). The opposite of anterior.

pseudarthrosis The failure of some or all of the vertebrae involved in a fusion to fuse successfully. Also spelled pseudoarthrosis.

resection The cutting away of a section of bone, such as one or more ribs as part of a thoracoplasty

rib hump The cosmetic deformity of ribs that results from the rotation of a scoliotic spine in the thoracic region. The rotation forces some ribs to curve outward, thereby creating a hump on an individual’s back that is most visible when the individual bends forward.

rotation The twisting of a spine around its vertical axis. Most scoliotic spines have some degree of rotation in addition to a lateral (side-to-side) curvature.

sacrum A large section of bone at the bottom of the spine between the bottom-most lumbar vertebra (L5) and the coccyx (tailbone). In developing infants, the sacrum is actually five distinct vertebrae; these vertebrae fuse together as one grows. The sacrum is sometimes denoted S1.

sagittal curves The front-to-back curves of a normal spine in the upper back (kyphosis) and lower back (lordosis). One goal of scoliosis surgery is to restore these natural curves, though not all individuals with scoliosis have abnormal sagittal curves.

segmental instrumentation Used in almost every scoliosis surgery performed today, segmental instrumentation (screws and hooks) can be attached to rods at multiple vertebrae, or segments, to achieve optimal correction of the curve.

selective fusion A fusion and instrumentation of only the structurally-curved sections of a spine; the compensatory curves are not fused or instrumented in the hope that they will correct on their own once the structural curve is corrected.

skeletal maturity A person’s body is “skeletally mature” when his or her bones are no longer growing. This usually occurs when a female is 14-16 or a male is around 16-18 years old. Skeletal maturity is determined by measuring the amount of bone that has formed on the upper edge of the pelvis, an indication called the Risser sign.

stretch films see bending films

structural curve Also called a primary curve, this is the “true” scoliotic curve. In contrast, a compensatory curve is a curve that is merely curving in reaction to the structural curve.

structural scoliosis Scoliosis caused by a presumably genetic or known medical condition

thoracic The section of spine in the middle back, between the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) sections. The thoracic section of the spine comprises twelve vertebrae (T1-T12) and supports the rib cage.

thoracolumbar curve A structural curvature that spans both the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine

thoracoplasty A surgical procedure to reduce the rib hump often associated with thoracic curves by removing sections of one or more protruding ribs. Here's a sample chapter from the book about thoracoplasty, which is also known as costoplasty.

thoracoscopic surgery A minimally-invasive surgical technique in which the spine is accessed through tiny incisions into which an endoscope is inserted

TLSO Thoracic Lumbar Sacral Orthoses. A fiberglass brace that some patients must wear for several months after scoliosis surgery.

vertebrae The 24 bones that, together with the sacrum and coccyx, comprise the spine