04.30.2019 / Uncategorized

Back Pain 101: Breaking Down Chiropractic Terms

You’ve left your doctor’s office with your head spinning because he told you that a neuropathy in your foot is caused by compression in your lumbosacral junction that requires epidural injections. You may be lost in the world of medical-speak.


As chiropractors, we tell our patients in plain language that they can understand, what their issue is and how we might help them. (In addition, we try to avoid using drugs and surgeries, both of which have low success rates but contribute lustily to the ability of doctors and pharmaceutical executives to make their yacht payments.)

For example, in the case above, a chiropractor would tell you that the discs in your lower back are pressing on a nerve that runs into your foot. We can relieve this pressure with a course of therapy involving painless spinal manipulation and other modalities, and in a few weeks, you will be well. No injections in your spine, no surgery, no drugs.


If you have back pain, you need to be equipped with a working knowledge of back pain language. So here are some key terms you need to know.


Acute vs. chronic back pain – acute means sudden and short-lived, less than three months. Chronic pain lingers. They often have different causes.

Analgesics – Either over-the-counter or prescription pain medication. Use these as little as necessary. They treat symptoms, not the cause.

Cervical, lumbar, thoracic spine – These simply refer to the three parts of the spine. Cervical refers to the seven vertebrae that support the neck. Lumbar refers to the five vertebrae in the lower back. And thoracic is the 12th vertebrae in between.

Compression and decompression – pressure, and the release of pressure on a nerve as it passes through the spine. A chiropractor can decompress your spine without surgery.

Disc – the squishy tissue between vertebrae that cushions the spine and allows it to bend.

Fusion – a surgical procedure that costs $100,000 or more and has a roughly 25% success rate. Almost never a good choice.

Herniated disc – protrusion of the squishy disc material from between the vertebrae. Also called a slipped disc, this can cause pain and inhibit movement.

Massage therapy – a health care discipline that involves manipulation of soft tissue to promote healing.

NSAIDs – more drugs to treat pain and inflammation. Generally benign but don’t provide a long-term solution.

Physical therapy – a health care discipline that helps restore and improve motion and helps people regain their ability to function without enduring surgery.

Relaxation therapy – therapies that individuals can do themselves to ease their own pain.

Sciatica – inflammation of the sciatic nerve usually because of compression from a spinal structure. Involves pain or numbness running down the buttocks and leg to the back of the knee and can often be alleviated by spinal manipulation.

Spinal manipulation – therapy administered by a chiropractic doctor to re-align the spine for optimal performance and relief of back pain. Also called an adjustment.

Spine – the S-shaped structure that runs up the middle of the back, composed of vertebrae, ligaments, discs and nerves. It is the edifice upon which the entire body is constructed.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – a small device used to send electrical impulses into the body to stimulate its natural pain killers.

Vertebrae – the 33 bones of the spine that, stacked up with discs between them, provide structure to the back.


That’s a starter kit of back pain terms. If you have back pain, please see a chiropractic doctor. Plus, now you have a leg up in “Back Pain 101” with knowledge of these chiropractic terms.