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Orthopaedic Definitions

Unless you're a physician yourself, orthopaedic definitions can be overwhelming. Dr. Dunbar firmly believes in giving each patient as much information as possible. To address this, we've assembled this list of relatively simple explanations to help you better understand the human body and its many common orthopaedic structures and conditions:

  • What is a Ligament?

    This is a "rope-like" structure that connects one bone to another bone and keeps the bone from going in the wrong direction.
  • What is a Tendon?

    This is a "rope-like" structure that connects the muscle to the bone. The muscle pulls on the tendon, the tendon pulls on the bone and the bone moves.
  • What is Cartilage?

    Articular cartilage is the white, firm, gliding surface on the ends of bones and on the back of knee caps. It looks like the end of a chicken bone. It helps the joints glide smoothly. When the articular cartilage is worn away, the result is arthritis.
  • What is Meniscus?

    Meniscus is made up of fibrocartilage. It looks and feels "rubbery" and acts like a shock absorber. You have two menisci in each knee and one in the joint between the collarbone and shoulder blade.
  • What is a Joint?

    A joint is the area where two bones come together and move independently Most joints are synovial, which means they have a joint lining and fluid inside and have articular cartilage on the end to help the joint move and glide.
  • What are Membranous Joints?

    This is another type of joint that has no fluid or joint lining. An example is the connecting points between the sternum (breast bone) and ribs.
  • What is Bone Actually Made Of?

    Bone is the body's framework that is made of cells, calcium and other minerals. There is marrow in the center, which makes the red blood cells that carry oxygen. As the body ages, the marrow in some bones begins to contain a higher fat content.
  • What is a Rotator Cuff?

    The shoulder is an inherently unstable joint. The rotator cuff helps keep the shoulder in place. It consists of four muscles and their four tendons (see definitions above). Two are in the back, one is on top, one is in the front. They are small muscles, and they are not strong, but they have a lot of endurance.
  • What is a Bursa?

    This is a thin lubricating sac that can get bigger when it is trying to "cushion" areas of irritation. Unfortunately, the fluid that your body uses to fill it up can actually cause more irritation and pain than that experienced with the initial problem.
  • What is a Fracture?

    A fracture is any break in a bone that goes partially or fully through the bone. During a fracture, the bone can remain in place or it can move out of place.
  • What is Dislocation?

    Dislocation always involves a joint, as when one bone moves out of joint relative to the other bone.
  • What is a Sprain?
    This is any stretching, partial tearing or complete tearing of a ligament (see definition above).
  • What is a Strain?

    This is any stretching or tearing of the muscle
  • What is a Rupture?

    This is when a tendon pulls off from its attachment to a bone.

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Would You Like More Information On The Practice of Orthopaedics and Common Injuries? We invite you to visit links to these well-respected medical organizations:






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