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Glossary of Physiotherapy Terms A - M

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Accessory movement
Joint movements which cannot be performed voluntarily or in isolation by the patient.
Achilles tendinitis
Inflammation of the Achilles tendon, particularly the peritendon. It may be predisposed to this type of condition because of biomechanical, muscular, training and footwear factors.
Acromio-clavicular (AC) joint
Joint between the acromion process of the scapula and the clavicle.
Needle, laser, electroacupuncture or pressure (shiatsu) can be beneficial in treatment and management of a variety of conditions, primarily to alter pain threshold and/or pain perception.
Adductor tendinitis
Commonly occurring in athletes and horse riders, with localised pain over the tendinous origin of adductor longus from the pubis or at its musculotendinous junction.
Anabolic steroids
Derivatives of the male sex hormone testosterone and are used as performance enhancing, to increase muscle bulk and strength. Can be taken orally or as an injectable.
Pain relief which may be achieved by use of medication (e.g. aspirin, paracetamol or codeine), modalities (e.g. ultrasound, interferential and laser) or acupuncture.
Ankle sprain
Usually an over stretch of the lateral (outside) ligament of the ankle joint. Can be of varying degrees, from minor over stretch to complete rupture.
Ankylosing spondylitis
A disease process of unknown aetiology, characterised by the presence of bilateral sacroiliitis with inflammatory changes in the spinal joints. The onset is most common in males in their late teens to early twenties. As the name suggests, it is a process which results in a gradual stiffening of the axial skeleton, sacroiliac joints and pubic symphysis.
Annulus fibrosis
This is the peripheral portion of the intervertebral disc, consisting of collagen fibres arranged in a highly ordered pattern. The posterior fibres of the collagen lamellae are thinner and more tightly packed, hence the posterior aspect of the annulus fibrosis is thinner than the rest of the annulus.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
Intra-articular ligament of the knee, attaching on the anterior portion of the tibial plateau extending upwards and posteriorly to the medial aspect of the lateral femoral condyle. Very frequently injured during twisting type sports (e.g. Australian Rules football, soccer), or those that involve rapid deceleration (e.g. netball). Extrinsic trauma also has a large part to play in ACL injuries.
Anti-inflammatory medication
See Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
Apley's test
A test of meniscal integrity comprising a compression of the knee (in 90 of flexion, with patient lying prone) and then performing both medial and lateral rotation.
Apophyseal joint
See Zygapophyseal joint.
Apprehension test
A test that places the joint in a position that would simulate subluxation or dislocation, with the degree of "positivity" being judged by the level of "apprehension" on the patient's face.
Using an intra-articular camera to assist, this less invasive procedure allows the Orthopaedic Surgeon to assess, repair or reconstruct various tissues both within and around joints. Now used preferentially to "open" procedures, when permitted.
Articular cartilage
Covers the ends of bones and allows the distribution of compressive loads over the cross section of bones, as well as providing a near frictionless and wear resistant surface for joint movement.
Usually attributed to muscle, it is a shrinking in size, usually following a period of disuse or immobility.
Avascular necrosis
Death of tissue due to complete depletion of blood supply. Commonly seen with fractures of the femoral neck, leading to death of the head of the femur. May also be seen in scaphoid and navicular fractures.
Usually caused when a muscle is forcefully stretched beyond its freely available range of motion, or when it meets a sudden unexpected resistance while contracting forcefully. Can also occur in ligament injuries, where the insertion of the ligament may pull some bone off when it is damaged.
This is the main outgrowth of a neurone and is dependent on the cell body.
Axoplasmic flow
This is continually moving cytoplasm within the neurone and provides material synthesized by the cell body to meet the physiological requirements of the cell body, the axon and the target tissues. Disruption to axoplasmic flow results in diminished performance of the neurone.


Baker's cyst
Bursitis of the semimembranosus or the medial gastrocnemius bursa. Often presents as a large soft tumour mass in the posterior knee and may be associated with degeneration of the knee.
Bankart lesion
An anterior pouch that is formed when the humeral head dislocates anteriorly, and remains following reduction, leaving a deficit in the anterior restraining mechanisms.
Biarthrodial muscles
Muscles that span over two joints and have a function over those joints e.g. biceps brachii - shoulder flexion and elbow flexion.
The use of instrumentation to bring covert physiological processes to the conscious awareness of the individual, usually by visual or auditory signals.
Blood doping
In its usual form, this involves withdrawal of blood from an athlete, followed by re-infusion after a suitable period of time, usually 4 - 8 weeks, during which time the level of red blood cells had returned to its pre-withdrawal state. The addition of the extra blood would increase the amount of cells available to carry oxygen. This practice has been used to improve endurance. This is a banned practice at elite levels of sport and may be potentially dangerous.
Bone density
A description of bone mass and is diminished in osteoporosis. Bone density has also been seen to be diminished in hormone deficiency syndromes, particularly oestrogen depletion.
Bone scan
See Technetium bone scan.
Grinding of the teeth, which may be a predisposing factor to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction.
Bucket handle tear
A description given to a type of tear of the meniscus of the knee joint, usually medial. The tear is one that extends along the length of the meniscus, within the body of the meniscus. This tear allows for the internal portion of the torn meniscus to slip into the joint. A common cause of a "locked" knee.
A fluid filled sac, usually located at areas of friction e.g. between tendon and bone.
Inflammation of the bursa, usually caused by overuse or direct trauma.


Calcaneal spur
Also called calcaneal enthesiopathy, where there is repetitive microtrauma at the attachment of the Achilles tendon resulting in the formation of a spur, extending from the calcaneum into the tendon.
Carpal tunnel
A "tunnel" formed at the wrist, by the flexor retinaculum and the carpal bones.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Where there is compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, resulting in sensory and motor disturbances of the hand.
Cauda equina
Lower end of the spinal cord.
Production of gas from liquid.
Central nervous system
The brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Cervical spine
Seven vertebrae - C1 - C7. Articulate with the occiput superiorly and the T1 vertebra inferiorly. Commonly known as the neck.
Chondromalacia patellae
Common name given to softening of the articular cartilage on the undersurface of the patella. Commonly seen in adolescents and commonly associated with functional and biomechanical deficiencies of the patello-femoral joint.
ChoPat strap
An infrapatellar strap, commonly used in the treatment of patellar tendinitis or chondromalacia patellae.
Clarke's test
Compression of the patella with resisted knee extension. Commonly used as a test of chondromalacia patellae but has not been shown to be reliable.
Cloward's spots
Areas of referred pain in the thoracic spine, close to the scapulae, secondary to cervical spine disorders.
Pain around the coccyx. Often caused by local trauma, but may also be a referred pain syndrome from the lumbar spine.
Colle's fracture
A common fracture to the distal radius, usually brought about by a fall onto the outstretched hand.
Compartment syndrome
Exercise, or effort, induced pain syndrome, whereby the pain is due to the inability of the muscles within the compartment to expand. Often confirmed by using catheter pressure testing.
Conjoint tendon
The common tendinous insertion of transversus abdominis and internal oblique at the pectineal line.
A bruise, often associated with blunt trauma.
Continuous passive motion (CPM)
A form of passive mobilisation, assisting in the recovery of cartliage. Used commonly following knee reconstructions.
Coronary ligament
Lies on the anterior aspect of the knee and attaches the anterior horn of the medial meniscus to the tibial plateau.
Anti-inflammatory medication. Can be taken orally (not common) or as an injectable, particularly in superficial tissues undergoing inflammatory pathology.
See Corticosteroids.
Costochondral junction
Junction between rib and costal cartilage. Commonly disrupted in contact sports.
A grinding noise or sensation within a joint. Commonly felt in knees, particularly on change of position after a long period of time.


de Quervain's disease
Inflammation of the tendons and sheath of abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis brevis, in the first dorsal compartment of the wrist, with subsequent thickening and stenosis.
Deep transverse frictions
Cross fibre, deep massage. Often a technique utilised on scar tissue and chronic tendon disorders.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Blockage of the deep veins, particularly common in the calf. Often mistaken for calf strain, the DVT is characterised by sharp pain in the calf, swelling, worsening with foot dependency and relief with elevation, tenderness and possibly some ecchymosis.
Area of skin supplied by one spinal segment.
Disc herniation
Often used interchangeably with disc prolapse, disc bulge, slipped disc etc. Disruption to the normal integrity of the intervertebral disc, causing the nucleus pulposus to breach the annular fibres internally. There are varying degrees, from minor bulging, to bursting through the outer annular fibres into the spinal canal.
Surgical removal of prolapsed nucleus pulposus.
Double crush syndrome
Defined as a serial impingement of a nerve tract. An initial injury to a nerve (e.g. nerve injury in the neck) may lead to a secondary lesion (e.g. median nerve in the carpal tunnel).
Dupuytren's contracture
A fibrous proliferation in the palmar fascia of the hand, that gradually produces a flexion deformity of the metacarpophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints.
Dura mater
Thickest, outermost covering of the spinal cord and spinal nerves. Also lines the inside of the skull.
Mechanical instrumentation that allows for measurement of concentric and eccentric muscle action, muscle endurance and muscle balance ratios. Usually associated with isokinetic testing, providing variable, accomodating resistance.


Controlled, active lengthening contraction of a muscle.
Swelling, with particular reference to joints and their related superficial structures.
Electrical stimulation
Provides a situation whereby there is an electrical generation of action potentials, giving rise to therapeutically significant physiological responses e.g. increased muscle strength, stmulated lymph and blood flow, analgesia, kinaesthetic awareness and autonomic nervous system responses.
Modalities used in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders e.g. ultrasound, short wave diathermy, interferential therapy, biofeedback, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and laser.
Quantified information regarding overall muscle performance and function.
Physiotherapist appreciation of the "feel" at the end of the range of motion, either of joint or other tissue. This is a sensation felt during passive movement, by the Therapist.
These are endogenous biomechanical substances implicated in the alleviation of pain, produced as a result of body stress.
Entrapment neuropathy
Pathological situation where a nerve is trapped in an abnormally produced anatomical or physiological site.
Erector spinae
Muscles of the spine that lie posteriorly. These are commonly known as the "anti-gravity" muscles.
The account of how the workplace relates to the human and its function.
That which lies external to the joint.
That which lies external to neural tissue.


A sesamoid bone that is within the lateral head of gastrocnemius, which often articulates with the femoral condyle.
Faber test
Flexion - Abduction - External Rotation test of the hip.
Facet joint
See Zygapophyseal joint.
Division of fascia. Often associated with compartment syndromes of the lower leg.
Fat pad
A "filler" in caverns. The most common is the infrapatellar fat pad.
A benign, intermittently recurring and protracted disease process, with a lack of underlying pathology. The condition is often associated with muscular pain and stiffness.
Finkelstein's test
Test for de Quervain's syndrome, whereby the patient clenches the fingers over the thumb and performs an ulnar deviation. To be positive, pain in the correct region must be elicited.
Freiberg's disease
Considered as an osteochondritis dissecans, due to an osteochondral fracture, with avascular necrosis of the bone, usually involving the head of the second metatarsal.
Frozen shoulder
Alternate name for "capsulitis" of the shoulder, which undergoes four distinct stages of pathology: Pain; Pain and stiffness; Stiffness; Resolution. These four stages usually run a protracted course, varying in length from 9 - 18 months.


The pattern of locomotion. Alterations to this pattern may be altered weight distribution, lack of mobility in hips, knees, ankles or presence of a Trendelenburg sign.
Benign tumour of synovium arising from the joint or tendon sheath.
Calf muscle made up of medial and lateral heads.
Genu valgum
Seen at the knee. Commonly known as "knock knees".
Genu varum
Seen at the knee. Commonly known as "bowed legs".
Gerdy's tubercle
Lateral tubercle at upper end of tibia, being the site of partial insertion of iliotibial band. Common site of pathology due to friction of iliotibial band on bone.
Gluteus maximus
Large, superficial buttock muscle.
Apparatus for measuring range of motion at a joint. Error rate quite high as there are often problems locating the exact axis of movement, particularly for complex movements.
Metabolic disease associated with hyperuricaemia, with symptoms occurring as a result of uric acid crystals being deposited into the tissues.
Grades of movement
Standardised means of documenting techniques of mobilisation, relating it to the true feel of joint movement.
Groin injuries
Description of injury to any one of the following muscles: sartorius; long head of rectus femoris; any or all of the adductor muscles; the abdominals or the iliopsoas.


Bleeding within a joint. If swelling of a joint occurs quickly (i.e. within 3 - 4 hours) it is probably an haemarthrosis and, in the knee, in 75% of all cases indicates an ACL injury.
Bleeding into tissues, usually as a result of blunt trauma.
Hallux rigidus
Loss of range of the movement of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint of the first (great) toe, particularly extension.
Hallux valgus
Deformity of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint of the first toe, whereby the toe deviates into the lateral position.
Hammer toe
Deformity of the toe whereby there is PIP flexion and DIP extension. The MTP is usually extended or neutral.
Muscles located in the posterior compartment of the thigh. Made up of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris muscles. Some anatomists will also include the "hamstring" head of adductor magnus.
Heberden's nodes
Bony swellings around the margins of joints, associated with degenerative changes of arthritis.
Heel lock
Technique of strapping, to ensure sub-talar joint stability.
Hill-Sachs lesion
Following anterior dislocation of the shoulder, the head of the humerus can sustain a compression fracture. This consequent depression of the humeral head is known as a Hill-Sachs lesion.
Hip pointer
Contusion of the iliac crest. Usually due to a severe knock against the iliac crest.
Horner's syndrome
Caused by interruption to the sympathetic nerves to the face and eye. A common feature is ptosis of the eyelid.
Housemaid's knee
Inflammation of the superficial infrapatellar bursa.
Substance that assists in the resolution of a haematoma. Usually prepared in a cream form.
Rehabilitation exercises performed in a appropriately designed pool.
Active or passive force which takes the joint into extension, but beyond its normal physiological range.
An increase in the normal range of joint movement. This may lead to instability.
An increase in the size of tissue.
An decrease in the normal range of joint movement. Often characterised by the loss of accessory movements.
Depletion of oxygen to tissues. Often caused by a cessation of blood flow and hence oxygen carrying cells.


Ice therapy
Cooling of deeper tissues, with vasoconstriction and reduction of localised bleeding.
Idiopathic pain
Pain without well defined physiological correlates.
Deep hip flexor, with attachments to the lumbar spine. Often tight in the presence of lower back pain.
Iliotibial band
Laterally situated structure in the thigh. Has action over the hip (muscular attachments of tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius) and over the knee (can act as a flexor at >30 of knee flexion and as an extensor at <30 of flexion). Tends to be a victim of overuse, rather than trauma.
Iliotibial band friction syndrome
Pain over the lateral compartment of the knee where the iliotibial band passes over the femoral condyle. Usually brought on by running. May have associated creaking, crepitus or clicking. Palpation often tender and with compression of the iliotibial band during flexion and extension, pain should be reproduced.
Prevention of movement, presumably to allow for natural healing to take place. Side effects include disuse atrophy, deconditioning of muscles and stiffness.
Infrapatellar bursa
Fluid filled sac located between the patellar ligament and the skin.
Infrapatellar fat pad
Lies deep to the patellar ligament and fills the space between the condyles of the tibia and the femur.
Intercostal muscles
Muscles lying between ribs and are often injured by rotary stress of the thorax.
Intervertebral disc
The disc forms a cartilaginous joint between the vertebral bodies, providing extremely efficient shock absorption. Made up of the annulus fibrosis, nucleus pulposus and the cartilage end plates. Research implies the disc is the most commonly damaged structure, being the most common cause of lumbar spine disorders.
Being within the joint.
Being within neural tissue.
Represented by the amount of activity necessary to worsen the condition, the extent of the exacerbation and the duration of the response. Based on a movement rather than a static posture, as this would give an idea of the amount of activity necessary to worsen the conditon. This has implications for the amount of assessment and treatment provided to the patient.
Applies to muscle contraction in which a constant joint angular velocity is maintained by accommodating resistance.
Muscle contraction without movement at the joint.
Constant loading of a muscle, with variable velocity.


Joint locking
An extremely painful condition, usually caused by entrapment of a loose body within the joint, between the joint surfaces.
Jordan frame
A specialised stretcher developed for transport of suspected spinal injured patients.
Jumper's knee
Associated with a small area of degeneration at the tendon attachment at the lower pole of the patella, characterized by pain and extreme local tenderness. Often associated with activities that require jumping off one leg e.g. high jumpers. Often associated with aptellar tendinitis.


Knee reconstruction
Surgical restoration of "normal" biomechanics of the knee, using tendon grafts to replace damaged tissues. Commonly seen with ACL injuries, when there is a concurrent rotary instability caused by damage to other structures, knee reconstructions are often the only way to restore acceptable mechanics. If the knee is unstable, reconstructive procedures are undertaken to restore function stability.
Exaggerated curvature of the spine, in the flexion/extension axis. In the thoracic spine, in adolescents, the most common cause of kyphosis is Sheuermann's disease. In the elderly, the most common cause of kyphosis is disc dengeneration. Localised kyphosis may be caused by collapse of one or more thoracic vertebrae which, in the elderly, may be associated with osteoporosis.


Lachman's test
Drawing forward of the tibia, relative to the femur, in 10 - 20 of knee flexion. A test for ACL disruption.
Surgical procedure, which includes removal of a portion of the lamina, to provide more room in the vertebral canal. Usually for disc herniation or spinal canal stenosis.
Laser therapy
Use of low powered lasers, for treatment of pain, swelling, inflammation and promotion of healing.
Lateral epicondylitis
Also described as "tennis elbow", but often with no history of sporting endeavour. Condition affecting the lateral compartment of the elbow. Pathology affecting the junctional tissue associated with the origin of the common extensor tendon at the lateral humeral epicondyle, specifically the tendinous origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis.
Lateral release
Surgical procedure whereby there is division of the lateral patellar retinaculum, from the patellar tendon to within the muscle fibres of vastus lateralis. Usually as a treatment of patellofemoral dysfunction, following failed conservative measures.
Leg length
A measure from the anterior superior iliac spine, to the tip of the medial malleolus, although this may be inaccurate in the presence of pelvic rotation or asymmetry. Leg length discrepancies may not be significant if they are less than 6 mm, as many asymptomatic patients have a leg length difference of up to 12 mm.
Lenox Hill brace
A commonly used brace, developed in New York for the use in ACL deficient knees, with particular emphasis on its de-rotation properties.
Loose body
A title given to an object, located within a joint, that has become detached. A common cause of locking of a joint.
Curve of the spine, whereby there is hollowing. Normal lordosis is seen in the lumbar spine, although variances do exist.
Lumbar spine
Made up of five vertebrae, it is commonly called the "lower back".
Luschka, joints of
Known as neurocentral joints, uncovertebral joints or lateral interbody joints, these joints are located near the posterolateral margin of the cervical discs.


Magnetic field therapy
Employs an alternating magnetic field to generate an electric current inside the tissues, resulting in changes to blood flow.
Mallet finger
A common condition due to the rupture of the long extensor tendon of the finger, at its insertion into the base of the distal phalanx of the finger.
Small amplitude, high velocity thrust technique at the end of range, with sufficient speed that the patient is unable to prevent the movement.
Manual therapy
The art of passive movement techniques.
A mechanical form of therapy, whereby the soft tissues are made more pliable with different techniques, promoting increased blood flow and subsequent healing.
McMurray test
A test for assessing the knee for the presence of a medial meniscal lesion. Performed with the knee in external rotation and abduction, with the knee in 90 of flexion, the knee is extended from 90. An audible or palpable click may be felt in the joint, thus indicating a positive test.
Median nerve
A large nerve, comprising segments from the cervical spine, that is involved in neural function of the upper limb. Commonly entrapped in the carpal tunnel of the wrist, to create a carpal tunnel syndrome.
The mensci are fibrocartilaginous structures that function as "washers" - to deepen the joint surfaces, shock absorbers, assist in joint lubrication and provide joint stabilisation. Often damaged, particularly in the knee, when there is a rotational force.
Removal of a torn section (or complete) of meniscus. Usually performed arthroscopically.
Passive movement technique that is performed that is always in the control of the patient. Usually performed as oscillatory movements in either the physiological or accessory range of a joint.
Morton's neuroma
Painful swelling of one of the digital branches of the plantar nerves. Occurs usually at the bifurcation of the nerve as it lies between the two adjacent metatarsal heads. The most common site is between the third and fourth metatarsal heads.
Movement diagram
Diagrammatic and graphical depiction of the palpation of a joint. Effective as a teaching tool to describe grades of movement.
Deep lumbar spine muscle. Its primary function is to stabilise the lumbar spine.
Myofascial trigger point
Areas of focal muscle tenderness and spasm, usually precipitated by a central cause of symptoms e.g. lumbar or cervical spines.
Myositis ossificans
Ossification of a haematoma, secondary to a blunt trauma. Should the haematoma be unresolved, calcification and subsequent ossification, can occur after approximately 3 weeks. Surgical intervention may then be necessary
Segmental innervation of muscle. Testing of specific nerve root function can be performed by testing myotomes at different levels.

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