Glossary of Therapy Terms

Glossary of commonly used Occupational Therapy terms

Adaptive Response: An action that is appropriate and successful in meeting some environmental demand. Adaptive responses demonstrate adequate sensory integration and drive all learning and social interactions.

Auditory: Language processing skills: the abilities of listening and verbally communicating, acquired as one hears and perceives sounds and interacts with the environment.

Auditory Figure-Ground: The ability to discriminate between sounds in the foreground and background, so that one can focus on a particular sound or voice without being distracted by other sounds.

Auditory Perception: The ability to receive, identify, discriminate, understand, and respond to sounds.

Bilateral Coordination: The ability to use both sides of the body together in a smooth, simultaneous, and coordinated manner.

Bilateral Integration: The neurological process of integrating sensations from both body sides; the foundation for bilateral coordination.

Binocularity (Binocular Vision; Eye Teaming): Forming a single visual image from two images that the eyes separately record.

Body Awareness: The mental picture of one’s own body parts, where they are, how they interrelate, and how they move.

Cocontraction: All muscle groups surrounding a joint contracting and “working” together to provide that joint stability resulting in the ability to maintain a position.

Depth Perception: The ability to see objects in three dimensions and to judge relative distances between objects, or between oneself and objects.

Directionality: The awareness of right/left, forward/back, and up/down; and the ability to move oneself in those directions.

Discriminative System: The component of a sensory system that allows one to distinguish differences among stimuli. This system is not innate, but develops with time and practice.

Dyspraxia: Deficient motor planning that is often related to a decrease in sensory processing.

Eye-Hand Coordination: The efficient teamwork of the eyes and hands, necessary for activities such as playing with toys, dressing, and writing.

Equilibrium: A term used to mean balance.

Extension: A straightening action of a joint (neck, back, arms, legs).

Fight-orFlight Response: The instinctive reaction to defend oneself from real or perceived danger by becoming aggressive or by withdrawing.

Figure-Ground Perception: The ability to perceive a figure in the foreground from a rival background.

Fine Motor: Referring to movement of the muscles in the fingers, toes, eyes, and tongue.

Fine Motor Skills: The skilled use of one’s hands. It is the ability to move the hands and fingers in a smooth, precise and controlled manner. Fine motor control is essential for efficient handling of classroom tools and materials. It may also be referred to as dexterity.

Fixation: Aiming one’s eye at an object, or shifting one’s gaze from one object to another.

Flexion: A bending action of a joint, or a pulling in of a body part.

Focusing: Accommodating one’s vision smoothly between near and distant objects.

Form Constancy: Recognition of a shape regardless of its size, position, or texture.

Gravitational Insecurity: Extreme fear and anxiety that one will fall when one’s head position changes.

Gross Motor: Movements of the large muscles of the body.

Gross Motor Skills: Coordinated body movements involving the large muscle groups. A few activities requiring this skill include running, walking, hopping, climbing, throwing, and jumping.

Habituation: The neurological process of tuning out familiar sensations.

Hand Preference: Right- or lefthandedness, which becomes established in a child as lateralization of the cerebral hemispheres develops.

Hypersensitivity: (also Hyper-reactivity or Hyper-responsiveness) Oversensitivity to sensory stimuli, characterized by a tendency to be either fearful and cautious, or negative and defiant.

Hypersensitivity to Movement: A sense of disorientation and/or avoidance of movement that is linear and/or rotary.

Hyposensitivity: (also Hyporeactivity or Hyporesponsiveness) Undersensitivity to sensory stimuli, characterized by a tendency either to crave intense sensations or to withdraw and be difficult to engage.

Inner Drive: Every person’s self-motivation to participate actively in experiences that promote sensory integration.

Integration: The combination of many parts into a unified, harmonious whole.

Kinesthesia: The conscious awareness of joint position and body movement in space, such as knowing where to place one’s feet when climbing stairs, without visual cues.

Lateralization: The process of establishing preference of one side of the brain for directing skilled motor function on the opposite side of the body, while the opposite side is used for stabilization. Lateralization is necessary for establishing hand preference and crossing the body midline.

Linear movement: A motion in which one moves in a line, from front to back, side to side, or up and down.

Low Tone: The lack of supportive muscle tone, usually with increased mobility at the joints; the person with low tone seems “loose and floppy.”

Midline: A median line dividing the two halves of the body. Crossing the midline is the ability to use one side or part of the body (hand, foot, or eye) in the space of the other side or part.

Modulation: The brain’s ability to regulate it’s own activity.

Motor Control: The ability to regulate and monitor the motions of one’s muscle group to work together harmoniously to perform movements.

Motor Coordination: The ability of several muscles or muscle groups to work together harmoniously to perform movements.

Motor Planning: The ability to conceive of, organize, sequence, and carry out an unfamiliar and complex body movement in a coordinated manner; a piece of praxis.

Muscle Tone: The degree of tension normally present when one’s muscles are relaxed, or in a resting state.

Oscillation: Up and down or to and fro linear movement, such as swinging, bouncing, and jumping.

Perception: The meaning the brain attributes to sensory input.

Plasticity: The ability of the brain to change or to be changed as a result of activity, especially as one responds to sensations.

Position in Space: Awareness of the spatial orientation of letters, words, numbers, or drawings on a page; or of an object in the environment.

Postural Adjustments: The ability to shift one’s body in order to change position for a task.

Postural Insecurity: A fear of body movement that is related to poor balance, and deficient “body-in-space” awareness.

Postural Stability: Being able to maintain one’s body in a position to efficiently complete a task or demand, using large muscle groups at the shoulders and hips.

Praxis: The ability to interact successfully with the physical environment; to plan, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions; and to do what one needs and wants to do. Praxis is a broad term denoting voluntary and coordinated action. Motor planning is often a used as a synonom.

Prone: A horizontal position of the body where the face is positioned downward.

Proprioception: The unconscious awareness of sensations coming from one’s joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments; the “position sense.”

Glossary of commonly used Physical Therapy terms

Abduction: A movement of a limb away from midline or the center of the body.

Adduction: A movement of a limb toward midline or the center of the body.

Ataxia: Muscular incoordination especially manifested when voluntary muscular movements are attempted.

Base of support: The weight-bearing surface of the body. For example, in standing = the feet.

Bilateral: Pertaining to two sides of the body, as in both arms or both legs.

Calcaneal Valgum: Angling of the heel of the foot outward, thereby flattening the arch of the foot.

Calcaneal Varum: Angling of the heel of the foot inward, thereby increasing or heightening the arch of the foot.

Cervical: Pertaining to the neck.

Core: Pertaining to the trunk (primarily abdominals and back).

Dissociation: To separate. For example, one extremity/limb performs a movement without the other extremity doing the same or similar movement at the same time.

Distal: Farthest from the center, from midline or from the trunk.

Dynamic: Pertaining to vital forces or inherent power; refers to the body in motion; opposite of stationary.

Extension: A straightening or backward movement of the spine or limbs.

External rotation: An outward turning of the limb away from the body.

Flexion: A bending or forward movement of the spine or limbs.

Genu Valgum: Angling of the knees inward, as in “knock kneed.”

Genu Varum: Angling of the knees outward, as in “bow legged.”

Gross Motor: Refers to movement of large muscle groups.

Hamstrings: A muscle group on the back of the thigh that can bend/flex the knee and straighten/extend the hip.

Hyperextension: Excessive movement in the direction of extension.

Hypermobility: Movement beyond normal range of motion.

Hypertonic: Muscle tone higher than normal; resistance to passive movement; in extreme form = spasticity.

Hypotonic: Less than normal tone; floppy.

Internal rotation: An inward turning of the limb toward the body.

Instability: Lack of firmness in weight-bearing. Difficulty maintaining weight bearing.

Kinesthesia: Conscious awareness (perception) of body movement (direction and speed), detected by joints.

Kyphosis: An increased convexity in the curvature of the thoracic spine (hunchback).

Long-sitting: Sitting with legs straight out in front.

Lordosis: An anterior/forward curvature of the lumbar and cervical vertebrae (spine). An increase is often referred to as “sway-back.”

Lumbar: Pertaining to the low back.

Midline: The theoretical lines that divide the body into two equal halves vertically or horizontally.

Motor Control: The ability of the central nervous system to regulate or direct the musculoskeletal system in a purposeful act.

Motor Planning: The ability to organize and perform movement in a meaningful manner.

Obliquity: A slanting.

Pes Planus: Flat feet.

Prone: Lying on the belly, face down.

Proprioception: The awareness of posture, movement, changes in equilibrium, and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects in relation to the body. Sensed by muscles, tendons, and soft tissue.

Proximal: Nearest to the point of attachment or center of the body.

Quadriceps: A large muscle group on the anterior/front surface of the thigh responsible for knee extension.

Range of Motion: A measure of the amount of movement/motion available at any given joint of the body.

Recurvatum: A backward bending, frequently referring to the knees.

Reflex: An involuntary/automatic response to a stimulus.

Ring Sitting: Sitting on the buttocks with legs forming a ring in front (not crossed).

Sacral: The triangular-shaped bone below the lumbar spine formed, typically, by the fusion of five vertebrae.

Side-sitting: Sitting on one hip with legs flexed to the opposite side.

Spasticity: Hypertension of muscles causing stiff and awkward movements.

Static: At rest; in equilibrium; not in motion.

Supine: Lying on the back, face up.

Symmetrical: Referring to symmetry of the body, whose right and left halves are mirror images of each other.

Tactile Defensiveness: A negative response or increased sensitivity to touch.

Tailor-sitting: Buttocks on the floor with legs flexed and crossed (“pretzel sitting”).

Thoracic: Pertaining to or affecting the chest or upper back.

Tone (muscle): The degree of tension normally present in the resting state of a muscle.

Unilateral: Affecting or occurring on only one side of the body.

Vestibular Stimulation: Stimulation of the vestibular apparatus (bones of the inner ear and canals) that provides information regarding acceleration and the position of the body in space.

Weight shift: Translation or movement of body weight from one side to another, forward or back.

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