Confusing Medical Terminology About the Spine


Author: Brooke Carmen, PT, DPT: Doctor of Physical Therapy and Blog Contributor.  Loves fun informational gems.  Fitness addict and wannabe foodie. Emphasizes patient-specific treatment style and promotes goal-oriented care. Learn more about Brooke on here. gems.  Fitness addict and wannabe foodie. Emphasizes patient-specific treatment style and promotes goal-                                                          oriented care. Learn more about Brooke here.

Knowledge really is power. Especially in health care. I have a lot of clients with several musculoskeletal diagnoses they have acquired over the years, and the diagnosis can be scary if they aren’t fully understood. This can lead to increased anxiety, stress, and even physical pain. 

I’d like to review some of the most common spinal medical diagnosis that come into the clinic to bring some clarity. These only are a handful, but there are plenty more I will write about in the future about other body parts.


This is an increased curvature of the upper back. A layman term is “hunch-backed.” There are many things that can reduce thoracic kyphosis, the first and more important thing may just be increased postural awareness throughout your day.


This is a normal aging process that effects the discs of the spine, the low back being the most common. As we age, the cushioning of the discs decrease which thins the space between the bony vertebrae. Some people with this diagnosis can have pain and limited flexibility while others can have “severe” DDD and have minimal to no pain. This does not travel up and down the spine like a “disease” that “attacks” us.


Interchangeable with osteoarthritis. The prevalence of this also increases with age like DDD, but some people have it more than others. This is when the ends of our bones start to have normal “wear and tear.” Some people with this diagnosis have pain while others do not. Like DDD, this does not travel through our blood and “attack” other joints. It can occur in only one joint or multiple depending on stress to that joint over time.


Interchangeable with DJD.


This is a sideways curvature of the spine that can be diagnosed with observation or definitively by x-ray with milder types. There are several types of scoliosis. If you are diagnosed with it, that does not necessarily mean it will get worse but it can depending on the type. If you are unsure if you may have scoliosis, I highly recommend talking to a PT about it. This can save you a lot of worry and clarify if you even have it!


Also called Bechterew's disease. This is when the vertebrae of the spine begin to fuse together, causing a hunched forward position. It occurs in men more than women and usually is diagnosed in early adulthood. This is an inflammatory process. Rheumatologists are a good resource for diagnosis.


This is an inflammatory process that mainly effects the hands and feet, but can effect the back. A rheumatologist is a good resource for this diagnosis also. This is different than osteoarthritis as it is autoimmune. 


This just brushes the surface regarding spinal medical terminology. Continue to check into our blog for future posts regarding various terminology or contact us directly with any questions regarding a diagnosis that is causing any confusion.