Glossary of Terms You May Hear

Arteriovenous malformation

Misconnection between the arteries and the veins

ASIA/ISCoS Exam and Grading System

System to describe spinal cord injury and help determine future rehabilitation and recovery needs. It is based on a patient’s ability to feel sensation at multiple points on the body and also tests motor function. Ideally, it’s first given within 72 hours after the initial injury.

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Potentially life-threatening condition caused by painful stimuli below the level of injury that the body cannot respond to because of non-functioning nerve cells (especially in people with complete tetraplegia). Symptoms include painful headache due to a sudden increase in blood pressure, slowed heart rate, increased or abnormal sweating, red blotches on the skin and restlessness. It’s important to be alert for causes, such as an overfull bladder, impacted stool, infected pressure ulcers or even ingrown toenails.

Complete injury

No function or sensation below the level of the injury

CT Scan (Computerized Tomography)

Provides doctors with more detailed information about spinal cord or brain damage than X-rays can show

Incomplete injury

Some sensory or motor function below the primary level of the injury

Healthcare advocate

A person who works directly for the patient or family for a fee, helping with paperwork, billing and management of post-trauma care


Internal or external bleeding caused by damage to ablood vessel

Motor Function

Ability to control muscles voluntarily and their resultant use

Motor Index Score (MIS)

A portion of ASIA/ISCoS exam that determines muscle strength of 10 different muscles on both sides of the body

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

Uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce computer-generated images. It can help identify blood clots, swelling or skull fractures that may be compressing the brain and/or the spinal cord.


A test using injected dye to help the doctor visualize your loved one’s spinal nerves more clearly. After the dye is injected into the spinal canal, X-rays and CT scans of the vertebrae can reveal herniated disks or other problems.

Occupational therapist

Skilled in helping individuals learn, or relearn, the day-to-day activities they need to achieve maximum independence


Paralysis, or loss of motion. It typically affects the trunk and both legs, but not the arms. This is usually a result of injuries at the thoracic and lumbar levels.


Doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation

Physical therapist

Treats disabilities that result from motor andsensory impairments

Recreational therapist (or therapeutic recreation specialist)

Helps patients discover the wide range of recreational options they may be able to participate in and trains them to do so

Rehabilitation nurse

Nurse with special training in rehabilitative and restorative medicine

Tetraplegia (also quadriplegia)

Paralysis from approximately the neck down. It results from injury to the spinal cord in the neck and is associated with total or partial loss of function in both arms and legs.

Sensory Index Score (SIS)

Part of ASIA/ISCoS exam that measures patient’s response to light touch and a pinprick in 28 points on each side of the body to determine what the patient can feel. Together, the SIS and MIS determine the patient’s level and severity of injury.

Vocational therapist

Helps people assess their job skills/readiness and return-to-work options