Have questions about a certain word or term? Browse our glossary for answers.
Have questions about a certain word or term? Browse our glossary for answers.
accessory movement – a movement of the joints that cannot be performed voluntarily or in isolation by the patient.
Achilles tendonitis – an inflammation of the Achilles tendon in the ankle.
activities of daily living (A.D.L.s) – personal care activities necessary for everyday living such as eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, toileting. Healthcare professionals use a checklist of ADLs to assess the needs and types of care a person may require.
akinesia – loss or impairment of voluntary movement.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.) – a terminal neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord and brain, characterized by progressive degeneration of motor cells.
aneurysm – an excessive enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall. Can cause internal bleeding if they burst.
ankle sprain – a tearing of the lateral or outside ligaments of the ankle joint which causes pain and immobility to the sufferer.
arrhythmia – a condition in which the heartbeat has an abnormal rhythm.
arthralgia – the occurrence of pain in a joint, usually due to arthritis or arthropathy.
arthritis – an inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and sometimes a permanent change in structure, such as gnarled hands.
arthroscopy – a minimally-invasive diagnostic procedure for joint conditions, involving inserting an arthroscope (a tiny video recorder) through a tiny cut in the joint to project images of the joint’s interior onto a screen. These images are then used to diagnose the joint for diseases and other changes.
articular cartilage – a form of cartilage covering the ends of bones that allows heavy loads to be spread evenly over their surface. They provide a frictionless and wear-resistant surface for joint movement.
assistive device – a tool that helps a person with a disability to complete a task. This can be a reacher, grabber, special eating utensil, or button-hooker.
atrophy – a gradual reduction of muscle tissue or nerve tissue mass due to disease or old age.
audiologist – a health-care professional specializing in identifying, diagnosing, treating and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular system portions of the ear (hearing and balance)
avascular necrosis – also known as bone infarction, it is the death of bone components and bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply.
avulsion – an injury when a body structure is detached from its normal point of insertion. It can happen when a muscle is forced to stretch beyond its freely-available range of motion, or when it meets a sudden resistance while contracting forcefully.
biarthrodial muscles – muscles that span over two joints and have a function over those joints.
bradykinesia – a slowness of movement that may be a symptom of nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
bradyphrenia – a slowness of thought processes that may be a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease.
brain attack – See entry for ‘Stroke’.
bursa – a sac filled with fluid located between a bone and a tendon or muscle. It provides a cushion between bones and tendons around a joint
bursitis – swelling and inflammation of the bursa. It is caused by repeated small stresses and overuse.
cardiac – of, related to, or pertaining to medical conditions of the heart
carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition which affects the wrist, in which the median nerve is compressed where it passes through the narrow, confined carpal tunnel in the wrist. It causes tingling, numbness or weakness in the hand.
cartilage – a smooth elastic tissue that covers and protects the bone at the ends of a joint. It cushions the bone and allow the joint freedom of movement.
central nervous system – the complex of nerve tissues that controls the activities of the body. In humans, it is comprised of the brain and spinal cord.
cervical spine – the portion of the spinal cord which is located in the neck.
coccydynia – an inflammation of the tailbone (coccyx) characterized by pain in the buttocks.
cognition – the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
complementary medicine – medical therapies that fall beyond the scope of scientific medicine, but can be used alongside conventional treatments. These can include acupuncture, TCM and chiropractic.
computed tomography scan (C.T. or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images of the body. CAT scans are more detailed than regular x-rays and can show detailed images of any part of the body, including bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
congenital – a bodily condition, such as a disease or physical abnormality, which has been found to be present at birth.
contracture – a condition of shortening and hardening of muscles, tendons, or other tissue, often leading to deformity and rigidity of joints.
contusion – a region of injured tissue or skin in which blood capillaries have been ruptured; a bruise.
corticosteroids (glucocorticoids) – potent anti-inflammatory hormones that are made naturally in the body or synthetically for use as drugs. The most commonly prescribed drug of this type is prednisone.
crepitus – a grinding noise or sensation within a joint caused by friction between bone and cartilage.
deep vein thrombosis (D.V.T.) – occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but may occur without any symptoms.
dementia – a decline in intellectual functioning that is severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform routine activities. It is usually marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.
diffuse axonal injury (D.A.I.) – the tearing or ‘shearing’ of the brain’s axons (long connecting nerve fibers) that can occur with severe brain injury due to sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, such as in a car accident.
disability – the inability to perform an activity in a normal way as a result of an impairment.
disc herniation (disc prolapse, disc bulge, or slipped disc) – also known as a disc prolapse, disc bulge, or slipped disc, it is a protruding or bulging of the discs between the vertebrae in the spine.
dislocation– a dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a ligament, causing the two bone ends to separate. Dislocations can also affect a joint, where two or more bones come together. A dislocated ball and socket joint causes the round head of the bone, or ball, to partially or completely come out of its socket.
embolus – a blood clot, air bubble, piece of fatty deposit, or other object that has been carried in the bloodstream to lodge in a vessel and cause an embolism.
endorphins – a class of hormones produced by the brain and released by the central nervous system (CNS) during periods of stress, exercise, pain, and orgasm. Endorphins help relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria.
epilepsy – a brain disorder involving recurrent seizures, loss of consciousness, or convulsions.
ergonomics – the process of designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems so that they serve the needs of their users and increase efficiency of work output.
femur – the medical term for the thigh bone. It is the longest and strongest bone in the body.
fibromyalgia – also known as fibrositis, it is a chronic, widespread pain in muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints throughout the body.
fracture – A fracture is a broken bone. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways (crosswise, lengthwise, in multiple pieces).
frozen shoulder (capsulitis) – a shoulder injury characterised by symptoms of stiffness, pain, and a limited range of movement. It may happen after an injury, being overused, or from a disease such as diabetes.
gait – a person’s typical pattern of walking.
genu valgum – commonly known as “knock knees”, is a condition in which the knees angle in and touch one another when the person is standing straight.
genu varum – commonly known as “bowed legs”, is a physical deformity marked by outward bowing of the lower leg in relation to the thigh, giving the appearance of an archer’s bow.
gluteus maximus – a muscle located in the buttocks that is responsible for movement of the hip and thigh.
gout – a disease in which defective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet, deposition of chalkstones, and episodes of acute pain. It can usually be controlled with medication and changes in diet.
grades of movement – a standardized means of documenting techniques of mobilization, relating it to the true feel of joint movement.
Guillain-Barré syndrome – A disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system.
hamstring – one of three muscles located in the posterior section of the thigh.
handicap – a barrier imposed by society, the environment, or attitudes that prevent a person with a disability from performing their roles in the usual manner.
humerus – the bone of the upper arm. It is located between the elbow joint and the shoulder.
hydrotherapy – the use of exercises in a pool as part of treatment for conditions such as arthritis or partial paralysis.
hyperextension – an extension of a knee, elbow, or other joint in the body beyond its normal range. From the prefix “hyper-” meaning over; beyond; excessive.
hypertrophy – an increase in the size of tissue matter due to an enlargement of its cells.
hypomobility – a reduction in the normal range of joint movement.
hypoxia – a decreased level of oxygen in the blood or tissues resulting from a failure at any stage in the delivery of oxygen to cells.
ice therapy – the application of ice on body tissues to treat injuries, swelling and inflammation.
idiopathic – refers to any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or from an unknown origin.
immobilization (medical) – fixation or binding of a body part to prevent movement thereby allowing natural healing to take place.
impairment – loss of the normal function of a body part due to disease or injury such as leg paralysis.
inflammation – characterised by swelling, pain, and stiffness, it is the body’s immune system reaction to injury or disease.
intercostal muscles – the group of muscles located between ribs. They help move the chest wall and are involved in breathing. They are often injured by muscle strain.
intervertebral disc – a layer of cartilage (bone padding tissue) that separates the individual bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine.
intra-articular – situated within a joint, or administered by entry in a joint.
ischemia – an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body, especially the heart muscles.
isometric – muscular action in which tension is developed without contraction of the muscle.
joint – The area where two bones are attached which allow both body parts to move. A joint is usually formed of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage.
joint locking – an extremely painful condition usually caused by entrapment of a loose body, such as a bone fragment or a meniscus tear within the joint.
Jordan frame – A specialized stretcher developed for transporting patients who are suspected to have spinal injuries.
jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis) – an overuse injury characterized by inflammation of the tendons in the knee area, causing localised pain and tenderness. It is caused by repetitive strain from too much running or jumping.
knee reconstruction – the surgical restoration of the knee to restore its function.
kyphosis (hunchback) – an exaggerated outward curvature of the spine. Also known as hunchback. See lordosis
laminectomy – a surgical procedure which removes a portion of the lamina, an arch-like structure in the body’s backbone. It is usually done to provide more room in the vertebral canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
ligament – a white, shiny, flexible band of fibrous tissue that holds and connects two bones or cartilages together in a joint.
loose body – a free-floating piece of bone, cartilage, or a foreign object in a joint.
lordosis – an exaggerated inner or concave curvature of the spine. See kyphosis.
lumbar spine – the portion of the spine located in the lower back that connects the upper body and lower body. It consists of the spinal cord, vertebrae, discs, and nerves.
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a magnetic field, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and body structures.
manual therapy – a physical treatment used in occupational therapy and physiotherapy to treat muscular and skeletal pain
massage – a form of therapy in which hands or other hard objects are applied to the body with pressure to make soft tissues more pliable, promoting increased blood flow and healing in the body.
medial epicondylitis – an overuse injury characterised by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the inside of the elbow. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm. Also known as: Golfer’s elbow, baseball elbow, suitcase elbow, forehand tennis elbow
median nerve – a large nerve, comprising segments from the cervical spine, that is involved in nerve function of the upper limb. It is commonly compressed in the carpal tunnel of the wrist.
meninges – the thin layers of tissue that surround the brain and spinal cord. There are three layers: the dura mater, the arachnoid, and the pia mater.
meniscus – a crescent-shaped disc of connective tissue between the bones of the knees that acts as a shock absorber. It cushions the lower part of the leg from the weight of the body.
mobility – the ability (of a body part) to move or be moved freely and easily.
Morton’s neuroma – a pinched nerve that usually causes pain between the third and fourth toes.
multifidus – the inner muscle of the back that stabilizes the joints in the lumbar (lower back) spine.
multiple sclerosis (M.S.) – an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Its effects are of varying severity and symptoms include being unable to speak, walk, or write.
muscular dystrophy – the name given to a group of hereditary diseases that cause a gradual wasting of muscle, progressive weakening and deformity.
musculoskeletal system – the complex system that is comprised of the body’s muscles and skeleton, including joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.
myofascial pain syndrome – a condition where pressure on sensitive points in your muscles (trigger points) causes pain in seemingly unrelated parts of your body.
myofascial trigger point – an area of tight muscle fibers that forms after injury or overuse. Also known as muscle knots.
nerve conduction test – a procedure to determine damage and destruction. It is performed with a device known as an electromyogram.
neuralgia – a sharp shooting pain in the face, neck, and sometimes elsewhere in the body, due to a damaged nerve.
neuritis – inflammation of a nerve or nerves. This usually causes pain and a loss of function.
neurogenic – anything that is caused by nerves, controlled by nerves, or originates in the nervous system.
neurological – pertaining to the nervous system.
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N.S.A.I.D.s) – a class of medicines that has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. It is used in the treatment of fever, swelling, and pain.
occupational therapy – therapy that helps people to do things they want and need to do through therapeutic use of their daily activities. They help people recover from injury, regain skills, and participate fully at school, work and in the home.
orthosis/orthotic – a brace or splint used to strengthen or stabilize an arm or leg. Someone who specialises in orthoses or orthotics is called an orthotist.
osteophyte – an outgrowth of bone called a ‘bone spur’ that forms along bone joint margins. Caused by old age, they usually limit joint movement and are an indicator of arthritis.
osteoporosis – a condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of bone tissue
overuse injury – injuries due to repetitive action on soft tissues that create micro-trauma that aren’t healed as fast as they occur. Repeated movements cause wear and tear on the bone, muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons.
pain – physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury. It is a basic bodily sensation caused by an external stimulus and is received by the nerves in the body.
pain threshold – the smallest level of pain that a person is able to recognize as pain.
pain tolerance level – the maximum level of pain that a person is prepared to tolerate.
palpation – a method of examination by feeling parts of the body with your fingers and hands.
palsy – a localised paralysis of a muscle or group of muscles, which is often accompanied by involuntary (unintentional) tremors.
paraplegia – paralysis of the legs and lower body, typically caused by spinal injury or disease.
patella – the kneecap, which is the bone that covers and protects the knee joint
patellar tendonitis – a condition in which overuse due to exercise causes ligaments in the knee to tear, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Phalen’s test – a diagnostic test for carpal tunnel syndrome in which the wrists are flexed for one minute. If tingling is felt in the fingers during the test, the patient may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
phantom pain – pain that feels like it’s coming from a body part that’s no longer there. The nerve endings at the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain that make the brain think the limb is still there.
physiatrist – a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physiatrists treat a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
physiatry – a branch of medicine that deals with restoring mobility and body function for a person who has been disabled as a result of a disease, disorder, or injury.
prednisolone – A corticosteroid medication that prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It is used to treat many different conditions such as allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or breathing disorders.
prosthesis/prosthetic – an artificial replacement for a body part, such as a prosthetic leg, heart, or breast implant. Someone who specialises in prostheses/prosthetics is called a prosthetist.
psychologist – a mental health professional who evaluates and studies behaviour and mental processes.
pubic symphysis – the anterior or front joint of the pelvis.
pulmonary – relating to the lungs.
quadriceps – a group of four muscles at the front of the thigh that helps the leg extend.
quadriplegia – a loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.
radionuclide bone scan – a nuclear imaging technique, it involves injecting a very small amount of radioactive material into the patient’s bloodstream to be detected by a scanner. This shows blood flow to the bone and cell activity within the bone.
radius (bone) – Also known as the radial bone, it is the shorter of the two bones in the forearm, the other being the ulna.
The Rancho Los Amigos Scale – measures a patient’s levels of cognitive function (LOCF) in response to external stimuli and the environment following a brain injury.
range of motion – the range of positions that a joint, such as a knee joint or elbow joint, is able to move from being fully extended to being fully flexed (curled).
rehabilitation – rehabilitation of people with disabilities is a process aimed at enabling them to reach and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and social functional levels.
rehabilitation engineer – a person who applies engineering sciences to design, develop and distribute technological solutions to problems confronted by PWD.
rehabilitation physician – a medical specialist trained and accredited in Rehabilitation Medicine. They lead a patient’s rehabilitation team and focus on functional goals to help patients and their family work closely with said team. Rehabilitation physicians provide unique, expert care through a process of evaluation, investigation, reviews, goal-setting, intervention and implementation.
retrolisthesis – backward slippage of one vertebra onto its lower neighbour to a degree less serious than dislocation.
rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in multiple joints. The inflammation often affects the joints of the hands and the feet and tends to occur equally on both sides of the body.
R.I.C.E. – an acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It is a memory aid for treating sprains and strains.
rigidity – a sense of stiffness and inflexibility towards the passive movement through the range of motion of a limb.
rotator cuff – the group of muscles and tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint and attach to the bone in the upper arm, whose function is to rotate the shoulder.
scapula – the medical term for the shoulder blade, its function is to stabilize the arm and provide for shoulder movement.
sciatica (lumbar radiculopathy) – a pain that originates in the lower back and travels down along the sciatic nerve in the back of each leg. Common lower back problems can cause sciatica.
scoliosis – an abnormal curvature and rotation of the spine, sometimes giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side.
seizure – a sudden event where a part or parts of the brain receive a burst of abnormal electrical signals, temporarily interrupting the brain’s normal electrical function. This can lead to loss of consciousness and unintentional spasms called convulsions.
shin splints – also known as tibial stress syndrome, it describes pain along the inside or front edges of the shin bone due to muscle strain from hard running or other leg activities.
soft tissues – the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the musculoskeletal system.
spasm – a sudden involuntary muscular contraction or convulsive movement. It is a painful muscle cramp which can be caused by various medical conditions.
spasticity – a muscle control disorder that is characterized by tight or stiff muscles and an inability to control those muscles. Spasticity is usually caused by damage to the portion of the brain or spinal cord that controls voluntary movement.
speech pathologist/speech therapist – a medical professional who studies, diagnoses and treats communication disorders, including difficulties speaking, listening, using the voice, or understanding language. They can also help people who experience difficulties swallowing food or drink.
spinal cord – a bundle of nerves running from the neck down the middle of the back that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body, controlling its movement and internal processes.
spinal instability – the abnormal movement between one vertebra and another, usually resulting from an injury. The pain arising from spinal instability feels like tingling in the neck or arms.
spinal stenosis – an abnormal narrowing of the openings in the spinal canal. It can cause pressure on your spinal cord, giving symptoms similar to a pinched nerve: pain, numbness, paraesthesia, and a loss of voluntary movement.
spine – also known as the vertebral column, it consists 33 bones and it is the part of the skeleton that keeps you standing up.
spondylolisthesis – a condition in which one bone in your back (vertebra) slides forward over the bone below it. This can cause back pain and numbness or weakness in one or both legs.
spondylosis – used to describe spinal degeneration, synonymous with spinal arthritis. It chiefly affects the intervertebral discs.
sprain – a partial or complete tear of the ligaments — the tissue that connect two bones together — after experiencing excessive force
stirrup (medical) – a technique of ankle strapping. Rigid tape is attached from the inner side to the outer side of the ankle, while sticking to the underside of the heel. This mimics the stirrup used in horse riding.
straight leg raise (S.L.R.) test – also known as Lasègue’s test, a technique for measuring sciatic nerve mobility and/or hamstring length.
strain – a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon — the tissue that connects muscles to bones — after experiencing excessive force
stress fracture – a bone injury caused by overuse, it occurs when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing a tiny crack called a stress fracture.
stroke (brain attack) – A stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or reduced. This deprives your brain of oxygen and nutrients, which can cause your brain cells to die. A stroke may be caused by a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).
tendon – the tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
tendonitis – an inflammation in a tendon or the tendon sheath.
tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) – an injury to the tendons on the lateral portion of the elbow. While the origins come from playing tennis, you can get it from other racquet sports, such as squash or racquetball or non-sport-related activities such as carpentry.
thoracic spine – made up of 12 vertebrae between the cervical and lumbar spines in the upper and middle back, it is the back of the back that provides spinal support to the ribcage
thrombus – a blood clot formed in situ within the vascular system of the body, which impedes blood flow.
transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – a method of using a small electrical current to locally stimulate nerve endings below the skin for pain relief.
transient ischemic attack (TIA) – a temporary loss of blood supply (ischemia) to tissues in the brain; colloquially called a “mini-stroke.”
transverse friction massage – a deep massage technique used at the site of an injury to break down scar tissue and remodel it to be more flexible, for tendon and ligament conditions.
ultrasound – a diagnostic technique using high-frequency sound waves to create images of the internal organs.
valgus deformity – the inclination of a joint’s distal bone away from the body’s midline. See “genu valgum”.
varus deformity – the inclination of a joint’s distal bone toward the body’s midline. See “genu varum”
vertebra – the bones that make up the spine that covers the spinal cord. The plural of vertebra is vertebrae.
X-ray – a diagnostic test using electromagnetic energy waves to capture images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.