Glossary of Medical Terms Related to Stroke

The following medical terms and definitions are provided as an aid to your understanding of commonly used words on this blog. These terms have been provided here for your convenience and because often times your health professional assumes you know what they are talking about! With that said, keep in mind these terms are not intended to provide or replace medical information by a licensed healthcare professionals. Please see your doctor if you need to seek medical assistance and ask your doctor to slow down and explain any of these terms to you in simpler terms if needed.

Acute: rapid onset, severe symptoms, and a short course; not chronic.

Atrophy: a continuous decline of a body part or tissue, usually a muscle, following a period of disuse or immobility.

Biofeedback: a relearning technique that teaches patients how to gain voluntary control over muscle tension, brain waves and other bodily functions and processes by providing them access to physiological information about which they are unaware.

Central Nervous System (CNS): The part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord which coordinates the entire nervous system of the body.

Chronic: a disease (or condition) that is long lasting or permanent. In the case of stroke, chronic may be applied to a condition that persistent past three, six or 12 months.

Contraction: a muscle contraction occurs when a muscle cell lengthens or shortens. Contraction is controlled by the central nervous system comprised of the brain and spinal cord.

Contracture: a chronic loss of joint motion due to structural changes in non-bony tissue (i.e. muscles, ligaments, and tendons), and may be the result of immobilization due to nerve injury, such as stroke, or other injury or disease.

Contraindicated: conditions under which a device (or medication or procured) is not advisable. Opposite of “indicated” or “clinical indication”

Hemiplegia: paralysis or severe weakness (paresis) of one side of the body, usually due to injury or disease of the brain or spinal cord.

Hypertonia: a condition marked by an abnormal increase in the tightness of muscle tone and a reduced ability of the muscle to stretch (ie. Increased stiffness) It is generally accompanied by (increased) spasticity of a particular muscle.

Hypotonia: reduced tension, relaxation of arteries. Loss of muscle tone.

Ischemic: not receiving the needed blood flow in a body part.

Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI): a scanner using magnetic energy to give a clear black and white picture of the brain and cervical canal.

Distal: moving further from the midline of the body.

Electrical muscle activity: as muscles contract, microvolt level electrical signals are created within the muscle that may be measured from the surface of the body.

sEMG sensor (surface Electromyography sensor): a sensor placed on the surface of the skin, directly above the muscles, that detects small electrical current or signals that comes from active muscles and may be used to evaluate the functional status of skeletal muscles and assist in neuromuscular training and rehabilitation.

EMG-controlled robotics: a robotic device that is initiated and controlled by a sEMG sensor.

Gross motor skills: skills that involve larger muscles; generally larger muscles develop before smaller ones; thus, gross motor development is generally considered the foundation for developing skills in other areas (such as fine motor skills).

Indicated: conditions under which a device (or medication or procured) is advisable. Opposite of “contraindicated”

Motor skill: a skill that require a patient to use their skeletal muscles properly and is dependent (along with motor control) upon the proper functioning of the brain, skeleton, joints and nervous system.

Motor development: the development of action and coordination of one’s limbs, as well as the development of strength, posture control, balance and perceptual skills.

Motor learning: the process of improving the motor skills, smoothness and accuracy of movements. The cerebellum and basal ganglia are critical for motor learning.

Multi-plane movements: motions that may occur in more than one plane of motion (front & back, side to side, twisting)

Musculoskeletal system: the complex system that includes the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.

Nervous system: the human system that coordinates the activity of the muscles, monitors the organs, constructs and also stops input from the senses, and initiates actions. Prominent participants in a nervous system include neurons and nerves, which play roles in such coordination.

Neuron: a cell specialized to conduct and generate electrical impulses and to carry information from one part of the brain to another.

Neurologist: person versed in neurology, usually a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the nervous system and the study of its functioning.

Neuroplasticity (also referred to as brain plasticity or cortical plasticity): refers to the ability of the brain and/or certain parts of the nervous system to change in order to adapt to new conditions, such as an injury. Neuroplasticity supports the scientific basis for goal-directed neurorehabilitation therapy technqiues.

Physiatrist: the physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Noninvasive procedures: a diagnostic effort or treatment that does not require entering the body or puncturing the skin.

Proprioception: the awareness of posture, movement, and changes in equilibrium and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of an object in relation to the body

Proximal: closer to the midline or origin; opposite of distal.

Sensory: pertaining to or conveying sensation (i.e., pain, touch, temperature).

Sensorimotor: of, relating to, or combining the functions of the sensory and motor activities.

Somatosensory: refers to sensory signals from all tissues of the body including skin, viscera, muscles, and joints.

Spasticity: stiffness or position that is difficult to release due to muscle overactivity; may occur following damage to the neurons, or nerve cells that send signals from the brain to the muscles to cause movement.

Subacute: between acute and chronic.

Range of motion (ROM): the degree of movement that can occur in a joint

Tone (aka residual muscle tension, muscle tone, tonus): the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles.

Weakness: inability to grasp or transfer an object.

Note: The definitions here are sourced from a variety of U.S. medical-based citations.

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