Glossary of Back Pain Related Terms

Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an eastern alternative therapy system which believes that the cause of back pain and other medical illnesses is the blockage in the flow in one of our invisible energy channels. Though these energy channels in our body are invisible, this healthcare science has specific predictions on how we may affect them by applying pressure to certain points along their path. Each of these channels has several pressure points which may be pressed upon, using our hands or instruments such as tiny needles, to restore the flow of energy and eliminate disease. Needles are used to puncture the body at specific sites along energy pathways called meridians. Each of these meridians and pressure points along the meridians are in the same locations in the body of all people. Because of this fact, this science has maps of the body depicting which organs, muscles, and limbs that they travel through. To see one of these meridian maps, check out the Meridians of Acupuncture website (

Acute Pain: When you present in your doctor's office with back or muscle pain, he or she will want to know how long you have had symptoms. Acute pain is pain that comes on rapidly and lasts about one to seven days. Acute pain is often caused by sprain and strain injuries. Sprains usually describe a stretching of the ligaments of the back beyond a healthy range of motion. Strains describe a muscle pulls that are caused by awkward movements or overloading of the muscle. Acute back pain cases related to sprain and strain injuries usually improve within 7 days - without aggressive medical intervention.

Alexander Technique: When trying to figure out the cause of a patient's back pain, doctors often look at the back tissues on a microscopic level or inside the body where they can see the internal structures of the spine in medical imaging procedures such as X-Rays, discograms, and MRIs. To determine the cause of a patient's pain, they look at how our body is working on the cellular level, with tests such as blood tests that measure how our immune system is functioning. Or doctors look into the deeper structures of the spine to see if anatomical anomalies are causing these structures to press on the spinal nerves. The Alexander technique focuses more on how body mechanics affect the way we feel and are able to move without discomfort. The Alexander technique is a therapy that teaches proper posture through mind-body awareness and helps you replace postural habits that contribute to pain with healthier habits. An expert in this technique will teach you about good postural habits through education as well as from observation. An Alexander technique practitioner will watch the way you move as you perform everyday movements as well as work tasks that you may regularly use in the office or at home. The practitioner will notice when the movements that you do are performed with bad body mechanics, and he or she will suggest how to correctly do these movements without putting a strain on the ligaments or muscles of your back.

Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS): Back surgery is a risky operation that may result in the failure to successfully treat back pain, either because the operation does not correct the structural problem, or because the operation results in complications or side effects. Because of the associated risks and the relatively high failure rate of back surgery, all the doctors responsible for your patient care will attempt to treat you with conservative treatments such as icing, heat, massage therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy before considering more invasive treatments such as back surgery. That being said, surgery may be an option for you to consider when instability in your spine threatens to cause permanent damage to the spinal nerves or the spinal nerve roots. To bring you relief from chronic pain or to prevent irreversible damage to the spinal nerves, back surgery may be considered. Orthopaedic surgeons are one type of doctor who surgically tries to correct spinal conditions. To learn more about what these types of doctors do and what their credentials are, go to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) website at The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is an organization that provides education and practice management services for orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals. The academy also serves as an advocate for improved patient care and informs the public about the science of orthopedics.

American College of Rheumatology: A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in medical conditions that affect the joints of the body. Rheumatologists may assess for and treat a variety of orthopedic conditions, but their specialty is studying whether or not a patient's joints are affected by disorders of the autoimmune system. Autoimmune system disease may cause an immune system response in our bodies which result in destruction of our articulating joints. Systemic diseases which affect our body's joints or connective tissues include rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Polymyalgia rheumatica, and Temporal arteritis. The American College of Rheumatology is a professional organization of rheumatologists and doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating rheumatic diseases. The American College of Rheumatology website is located at