9 Commonly Used Surgery Terms and What They Actually Mean

NPO, arthro, outpatient…? What qualifies as a clear liquid?

The healthcare world is full of abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology that the people who work in healthcare may use every day, but that patients may hear for the first time only when they need surgery.

Here are 9 medical terms commonly used at BOSC and their definitions.

Arthroscopic Surgery

The word “arthroscopy” comes from the Greek words “arthro” and “scope,” which mean “joint” and “look,” respectively. When an arthroscopy is performed, a camera is inserted into the joint through an incision approximately one centimeter long. The camera is attached to a light source and displays a picture of the inside of the joint on a television screen in the operating room. The surgeon uses fluid to expand the joint, aid in visibility, and clear the joint of debris. One or more other incisions are made to insert instruments that are used to treat a variety of conditions such as a torn meniscus or rotator cuff. This type of surgery is commonly referred to as a scope.

Outpatient Surgery

This type of surgery is also called “ambulatory surgery” or “same-day surgery.” It refers to surgical procedures that do not require an overnight hospital stay, meaning you will go home the same day your surgery is performed. The one exception is the BOSC outpatient joint replacement program. With these procedures, you will stay overnight in our extended stay area, but you will return home within 23 hours of your surgery. Learn more about outpatient joint replacement here.


NPO is a medically approved abbreviation that means NOTHING BY MOUTH. The abbreviation is based on the Latin phrase “ni per os,” which translates to “nothing by mouth.”

For patients, NPO is the reason you can’t eat or drink anything before your surgery. It is recommended that patients have nothing by mouth (no food or fluid) for a minimum of six hours and a preferred 8-12 hours prior to their surgery start time. NPO status is used to help prevent aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can occur when food or fluid from your stomach is aspirated (or inhaled) into your lungs, which can cause an infection and lead to pneumonia.

Clear Liquid

If your surgery is in the afternoon, despite NPO status, you may be allowed to have clear liquids until six hours before surgery. Clear liquids are defined by MedLine Plus as liquids that are easily digested and leave no undigested residue in the intestinal tract. This also includes foods that turn into clear liquids at room temperature.

Foods that qualify as clear liquids include:

  • Plain water
  • Fruit juice with no pulp (apple, grape, cranberry)
  • Clear, fat free broth (Bouillon or Consomme)
  • Clear sodas (7-Up, Sprite, ginger ale)
  • Sports drinks
  • Kool-Aid
  • Plain gelatin, Jello-O
  • Popsicles (no fruit pulp or pieces)
  • Tea or coffee (no milk or cream)

Weight Bearing Acronyms

Often after surgery on the hip, knee, or ankle, your physician will order specific weight-bearing restrictions. These include:

NWB – Non-weight bearing

TT – Toe Touch weight bearing (less than 10 lbs)

WBAT – Weight bearing as tolerated

If these restrictions are ordered by the physician, they will be be reviewed with you before you are discharged. Additionally, if you are NWB or TT weight bearing status, an assistive device such as crutches, a cane, walker, wheel chair, or knee scooter will be recommended.


DVT stands for Deep Vein Thrombosis. It occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in a lower limb. The blood clot is formed when blood flow is reduced or slowed due to a trauma such as surgery, injuries, inflammation, or immune response. Blood flow can also be slowed by prolonged immobility, such as what might result from surgery or serious illness.

If you are having surgery that requires general anesthesia, a BOSC nurse will use a tool to assess your risk of developing a DVT. Depending upon your score, you will receive sequential compression stockings (SCDs). SCDs are placed on your lower legs and then hooked up to a small machine, which will intermittently compress your lower legs. This helps move the blood throughout your body, preventing pooling of the blood in your veins, which can lead to clots.