For CAs: The Language of the Health-Care Professions

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We would all like to thank Dr. Richard C. Schafer, DC, PhD, FICC for his lifetime commitment to the profession. In the future we will continue to add materials from RC’s copyrighted books for your use.

This is Chapter 4 from RC’s best-selling book:
“The Chiropractic Assistant”

These materials are provided as a service to our profession. There is no charge for individuals to copy and file these materials. However, they cannot be sold or used in any group or commercial venture without written permission from ACAPress.

Chapter 4: The Language of the Health-Care Professions

When more than one person is involved in any task, good communication is basic for success. Thus, a sound foundation in chiropractic terminology is an important functional skill to be possessed by any chiropractic assistant. It is a requisite to becoming an important asset to the office.

If a CA’s duties include taking dictation of case histories, examination findings, or narrative reports, she must know how to record scientific terms in shorthand and know how to spell them accurately. A good medical dictionary will be an important reference. Even if dictation is not required, she still must know what the doctor means when certain terms are used. He will expect his assistants to have a fundamental grasp of commonly used medical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms.

Do not enter this study lightly. On the other hand, do not let yourself be appalled by the formidable and specialized vocabulary used in health care. The learning of professional terms will not come overnight. It will extend the entire length of your career as new and unfamiliar words are confronted.


It would not be unusual if you found many words used in the first three chapters of this program strange or at least unknown. When you undertake the transposition from lay person to chiropractic assistant, you are faced with an entirely new language that must be mastered so the transition be successful. The most efficient method to accomplish this is by securing an understanding of basic word roots, prefixes, and suffixes used in the formation of technical words and gaining an understanding of the meaning of commonly used abbreviations and acronyms. Study and repetitive use is the way to mastery.

A fundamental knowledge of anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) will be of great assistance in learning terminology. A basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology is offered in the following chapter. This chapter will prepare you for the terminology of those and other clinical subjects. While professional terms may at first seem strange, you will see their purpose in this and following chapters.


In studying the terminology of any science as in learning any language, phonetics or word sound plays an important role. While you will never need to know how to spell or pronounce every word in your reference dictionary, you will be required to be familiar with common terms and know where and how to look up unfamiliar terms. Phonetics and an understanding of prefixes and suffixes will be helpful, if not necessary, to do this.

There are two simple rules for correct pronunciation of scientific terms. They are based on the syllable breakdown of the word and the occurrence of vowels (a, e, i, o, u):


  1. If the vowel is not followed by a consonant in the same syllable, it has the long sound; eg, the word abdomen (ab-do-men). Here the “o” in “do” has the long low sound.
  2. If the vowel is followed by a consonant in the same syllable, it has the short sound; eg, the word abdominal (ab-dom-i-nal). Here the “o” in “dom” has the short higher sound as in “Tom.”


As chiropractic vocabulary is studied, the student will find it made largely of many variations of various roots, prefixes, and suffixes in different combinations. Thus the number of word parts necessary to learn is not so great as one would suspect.

Most technical words used in chiropractic terminology come from the root languages (Greek and Latin). Some are pure translations; others are combined forms of Greek and Latin. While the number of English words is enlarging, prefixes and suffixes usually remain Greek or Latin.

Besides Greek and Latin, other languages have had their influence. Words such as alcohol, alkali, camphor, and tartar are derived from Arabic. Many simple anatomical terms such as arm, back, bladder, blood, finger, foot, gut, hair, hand, knee, liver, lung, mouth, neck, ache, fat, and sick are Anglo-Saxon in origin. Other monosyllable terms such as ill, leg, and skin are of Scandinavian descent. Words such as chancre, cretin, fontanelle, grippe, malaise, poison, role, cul de sac, grand and petite mal and tic douloureux come from the French, as do such Americanized terms as goiter, gout, malinger, jaundice, ointment, and physician. Some examples of Greek-French terms are surgeon, plaster, migraine, and palsy. From the Italian we have gained the words influenza and malaria, and from the Dutch, cough, litmus, and splint. The Germans, Persians, Chinese, and Spanish also have contributed their share.

It is not unusual for a student new to health science terminology to recoil in fright when confronted with a term such as
hemangioendothelioblastoma. But once the roots, prefixes, and suffixes making such compounds are learned, what seems at first impression to be unintelligible soon becomes quite clear.

For this reason, commonly used prefixes, suffixes, and word elements should be studied diligently. The first step is to break a compound term into its parts. For example, view the example given above as

hem + angio + endothelio + blast + oma

This aid spelling, pronunciation, and remembering. Once the definitions of these units are known, the meaning of the compound word is understood.

  hem        – blood
  angio      – vessel
  endothelio – endothelium
  blast      – primitive cell (or, germ cell)
  oma        – tumor

Thus, Hemangioendothelioblastoma translates as:

a primitive cell tumor located in the endothelium of a blood vessel

Other examples of how words are made and their literal meanings are cardiogram, meaning tracing of heart action, from cardio (heart) + gram (picture); colitis, meaning inflammation of the lower intestine, from col (colon) + itis (inflammation); and leukocytes, meaning white blood cells, from leuko (white) + cytes (cells).


Table 4.1 lists many common Latin and Greek roots used in chiropractic terminology. Some word elements are frequently placed before other word elements as prefixes or after other elements as suffixes. For euphony, a vowel or a consonant is sometimes added to or subtracted from word elements in combination.

Refer to Table 4.1. The root is given first; then a brief definition follows.

Note:   Because of the length of the following table, you may want to jump to the next section:

Common Latin and Greek Prefixes

Table 4.1. Common Latin and Greek Roots

Root Definition
abdominus abdomen
acantha spine
acousia hearing
acro extremity
actin ray
acuo sharp, sudden
aden gland
adeps fat
adit entrance, approach
aer air
ala wing
alba white
alex to protect
algia pain
ama together
ana to build up
andro man
anglo vessel
anima soul
ankylo loop, adherence
anom irregular
ansa handle
antero before
anthrop man
antrum cavity
anulus circular
aqua water
arche beginning
archo anus
arcus bow, arc
arthro joint
articulus joint
astro star
atmo vapor, air
atrophy a wasting away
audio to hear
auris the ear
auto self
Root Definition
bacter rod
baro weight
bary heavy
basis foundation
bilis bile
blos life
blast germ
bovine cow, ox
brachlon arm
brachium arm
brachy short
brady slow
brevis short
bromos stench
bronchus bronchial tube
bubon groin
bursa sac, pouch
Root Definition
caco bad, poor, sick
calor heat
caput head
cardio heart
carno flesh
cartilago gristle
cata down
cauda tail
cavum cavity
cele hernia
celia abdomen
entesis puncture
cephal head
chir(o) hand
chole bile
chondra cartilage
chroma color
chyle juice
cide to kill
clast breaking down
color hew
colp vagina
cor heart
corpus body
costa rib, side
crico ring
erotic pulsation
crucis the cross
crus leg
crux the cross
cry cold
crypt hidden
cutis skin
cyano blue
cyna dog
cyte cell
Root Definition
dacry tear
dactyl finger
deca ten
demo people
dens tooth
derma skin
dexia on the right
dexter right
digit finger, toe
diplo double
dolor pain
durus hard, lasting
dynia ache, pain
dys difficult, painful
Root Definition
ectasis dilatation of
ecto without, outside
ectopy displacement of
embryo to grow within
emia blood
endo within
ensis sword
entero intestine
equus equal
erythro red
esthesia feeling, touch
eu good, healthy
exo outside, without
Root Definition
febris fever
femina woman
Fibra fiber
fila thread
flex bend
Root Definition
galactia milk
gastr the stomach
gen to beget
genu knee
germen germ, sprig
gingiva the gum(s)
glossa tongue, speech
glyco sugar
graph to write, record
gravi weighty, serious
gyne woman, female
gyros circle
Root Definition
hala breath, air
helio the sun
hema blood
hepat the liver
heter other, different
hidro perspiration
histo tissue
homo like, same
humerus shoulder
hydro water
hygea health
hypno sleep
hyster womb
Root Definition
icthy fish
idio self
ileum distal small intestine
ilium hip bone
intestinum intestine, entrail
ipso same
iso equal
Root Definition
jecur liver
juxta near
Root Definition
keras horn, cornea
kine motion
Root Definition
lachryma tear
lact milk
later< /TD> side
lati broad
lave wash
lepid scale, scaly
lepsy spasm, seizure
leuko white
lexia word
lien the spleen
lingua tongue
lipa fat
lith stone, calculus
logue speech
luna moon
lysis to dissolve, breakdown
Root Definition
macro great, long
mal bad, painful
malacia softening
mamma breast
mania madness
mas man, male
mast breast
medicamentum medicine
medio middle
mega large, great
megalo large, great
melano black
meno month
mens mind
mensis month
mentis mind
meso middle
meta between, after, beyond
meter measure
metro the uterus
micro tiny, minute
mis bad, poor, dislike
mono single, alone, one
morbus disease
mortis death, dead
muco mucus
multi many
musculus muscle
myelo marrow
myo muscle
Root Definition
nano dwarf
nasus nose
natus birth
necro death
neo new
nephr kidney
nervus nerve
neuro nerve
nidus nest
niger black
nocte night
nomen name
naso nose
nosto to return, go
novus new
nychia fingernail, toenail
Root Definition
ob against, obstructive
odont tooth
odor smell
olig little, sparse, few
omni all
onoma name
oophor ovary
opthalma the eye
ora mouth
orch testicle
ortho straight, regular
os mouth
osma odor
osteo bone
ot ear
ovum egg
Root Definition
pachy thick
paleo old, ancient, past
pan all
para to bear
paries wall
partum to give birth to
path disease, disorder
pedi child
pedis foot
penia poverty, poorness
pexy fixation
phagy to eat
pharmac medicine, drug
phil to love
phleb vein
phobia morbid fear
phone voice, sound
photo light
phrasia utterance, speech
phren mind, head, skull
phylaxis anti-infection
physi nature
plasia toform
pnea to breathe, breath
pneumo lung
podia foot
polio gray
poly many, excessive
procto anus
pseudo false, mimic
psyche mind, soul, spirit
pteryg wing
ptya sputum, salvia
pulmo lung
pulsus pulse, stroke, beat
puter rotten, putrid
pyelo trough, basin
pyo pus
pyr fire
pyreto fever
Root Definition
quadri four
Root Definition
rachis spine
ramus branch
rar thin, rare, sparse
ren kidney
rheo current
rhin the nose
ruber red
Root Definition
salping tube
salpinx tube
sanguis blood
sanitas health
sapro putrid
sarco flesh
sarx flesh
schist(o) to separate, split
schiz to divide, split
scler hard
scopy observation of
cota darkness
sect tocut
sial saliva
sito food
soma body
somnus sleep
spasm seizure, convulsion
sphen wedge
sphygma pulse, throb
spina spine
spiritus spirit
splanchna organ, viscus
spondy vertebra, spine
squama ascale
staphyl grape
stasis stopping, checking
stere solid
steth chest
stoma mouth
stomach unus
sudor perspiration
super over, abnormal
supra above
Root Definition
tachy swift
tact touch
tend tendon
teno tendon
testis testicle
tetra four
thana death
thenia strength, power
theo god, deity
therapy treatment
therm heat, temperature
thorax chest
thrombo blood clot
thyro shield, thyroid
tocia childbirth
toco childbirth
tonus</td > tone, sound
tricho hair
trophy nutrition, growth
Root Definition
ula gum
ultra over, beyond, excess
uria urine
uter womb
Root Definition
vas vessel
ven(e) vein
vertebra(l) spine, backbone
Root Definition
xanth yellow
xero dry
xylo wood
Root Definition
zoo animal
zymo to ferment


Table 4.2 lists common prefixes. Remember that a word element may be placed before or after another element or as the word denoting the meaning when used with another prefix or suffix. Also recall that a vowel or consonant is sometimes added or subtracted between combined word elements to obtain euphony. In Table 4.2, prefixes are shown in the left column followed by their common definition. Examples and their definitions are shown in the columns on the right.

Note:   Because of the length of the following table,
you may want to jump to the next section:

Common Latin and Greek Suffixes

Table 4.2.   Common Prefixes and Examples of Use

Review the complete Chapter (including sketches and Tables)
at the
ACAPress website