Defining Terms in Sports Medicine


Sports Medicine, like Spine Medicine, has a vocabulary that is unique, and few health care workers outside of the field speak this language fluently. Below are sports medicine terms that often times are confused by clinicians and patients alike.

Arthritis – Joint inflammation

Arthrosis – Joint degeneration

Atrophy – Muscle wasting, loss of muscle mass

Avulsion fracture – Injury to tendinous insertion site where a small piece of bone is fractured in continuity with the tendon, rather than rupture at the tendon-bone interface.

Bone bruise – Microfractures seen on MRI.

Bursitis – Inflammation of a bursa

Chondromalacia – Softening or damage to the articular cartilage of the patella—diagnosis made under direct visualization at the time of surgery. This term is often used to describe similar lesions in other bones.

Chondrosis – Chondral (cartilage) degeneration

Dislocation – Complete loss of apposition of articulating bones that normally comprise a joint.

Instability – Functional term referring to joint laxity that is not controlled by stabilizing muscles—may be unidirectional or multidirectional and is symptomatic.

Laxity – Degree of looseness, usually referring to a ligament. Occurs in persons with generalized ligamentous laxity (so-called “double jointed”).

Sprain – Injury to a ligament owing to excessive stress

Sprain Classification

Grade I: Minor tearing without increase in translation of affected joint (no laxity on stress testing but painful)
Grade II: Partial tear with mild-moderate increased translation
Grade III: Complete tear with marked increase in translation

Strain – Injury to a muscle or tendon owing to excessive stress

Strain classification:

1st Degree: Minimal damage to the muscle, tendon, or musculotendinous unit
2nd Degree: Partial tear to the muscle, tendon, or musculotendinous unit
3rd Degree: Complete disruption to the muscle, tendon, or musculotendinous unit

Subluxation – Partial dislocation of a joint

Tendonitis (tendinitis) – Inflammation of a tendon

Tendonopathy (tendinopathy) – Diseased tendon

Tendonosis (tendinosis) – Tendon degeneration (usually focal)

Tenosynovitis – Tendon sheath inflammation

Tensile strength – Maximum stress that a structure can sustain before failure