Mastering Health-Care Terminology

Massage therapists use health-care terminology (also called medical terminology) to communicate with one another and with other health-care providers. Learning health-care terminology has many benefits:

  • Improved understanding of written information in textbooks.
  • Improved understanding of verbal information conveyed in lectures and demonstrations.
  • Improved critical and clinical reasoning skills.
  • More confidence communicating with instructors and classmates.
  • Better grades.
  • Better passing scores on national examinations.

Most medical and health-care terms are built from Greek and Latin word elements. In massage school, you are expected to learn this new language! Here are some tips to make this ongoing task easier and to support your mastery of health-care terminology!

Understand Word Elements  

Medical terms are composed of individual components called word elements. Word elements are prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Your textbook should contain a section with tables showing and defining different word elements you can use as a reference.

Prefixes are word elements attached to the beginning of a root to modify its meaning. For example, the prefix sub- is often used to modify Latin roots. It means “under,” “beneath,” or “less than” what is normal. For example, subclavian means below the clavicle and subcutaneous means beneath the skin.

Roots are word elements that provide the core meaning of the word. They are usually combined with prefixes and suffixes to create medical terms. Roots often refer to an anatomical structure such as an organ or body region, or to a disease or condition. For example, the word cardi(o) relates to the heart. Cardioplegia is the paralysis of the heart (from the Greek pledge meaning “stroke”). Cardiovascular relates to the heart and blood vessels or circulation (vascular comes from the Latin vasculum meaning “vessel”).

Suffixes are word elements attached to the end of a root to modify its meaning. The suffix algia means “characterized by pain,” so you know that neuralgia means some type of pain. When you know that the root neur(o) means nerve, it is easy to deduce that neuralgia means a condition involving nerve pain.

Take a moment to find the word elements section of your textbook and review different word elements. Return to this area regularly during your schooling to review the meanings of prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Utilize Other Resources

A medical dictionary defines words and word elements used in medicine. The three major English-language medical dictionaries are Stedman’s, Taber’s, and Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary. You will want a medical dictionary for your professional massage practice in the event you must look up a client’s unknown medical condition or symptom. Purchase one early to support your studies and mastery of health-care and medical terminology.

You can also use ABMP’s Exam Coach to help you master terminology. With more than 2,400 terms, their definitions, and their pronunciations included in this interactive web-based test prep app, you will have terminology mastered in no time. Try the ABMP Exam Coach free demo now.

Highlight Unfamiliar Words in Your Textbook

Before you sit down to complete a reading assignment, skim through the pages of your textbook and highlight all of the words you don’t recognize. Download the ABMP Vocabulary Form in the Picked Fresh section of this newsletter and write down each term in the space provided. Look up each word and write its meaning into the form. Now you’re ready to complete the reading assignment with improved comprehension. You have also developed an important study tool for review when you prepare for quizzes and written examinations.

Capture Unfamiliar Words During Lectures

During a lecture, raise your hand and ask the instructor to restate and spell unfamiliar vocabulary words. Write the word directly onto the front of a flash card. After the lecture, look up the words and write the definitions on the back of the flash card. These flashcards will help you study for quizzes and exams.

Explain Terms to Yourself

During study sessions, review terminology flashcards or lists and state the word out loud; then state the definition in your own words. Take your time and restate each definition 2–3 times before moving on. The physical movements of your mouth saying the words will help you move the term’s definition into your long-term memory.

With a little advance planning and some drill and practice (study terminology lists and flash cards daily), you’ll master the language of the body and be well on your way toward a professional massage or bodywork practice.