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How Words Create Worlds And Why Physiotherapists Have To Be Careful How They Speak - By Lou Savill

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How Words Create Worlds And Why Physiotherapists Have To Be Careful How They Speak - By Lou Savill

I’m sure that I come across as pedantic at times when it comes to language. I’m picky about the words I use and not shy about disagreeing with those who are less so.

In my profession, words create worlds. They can inspire change, instil fear and change the trajectory of a person’s life. Even when delivered with positive intentions, certain phrases and explanations can have a dramatic negative impact.

Take this story from a woman with persistent low back pain from a qualitative research paper:

“Basically all I’ve kind of been told to do by physios is to work on my core...I’ve been tested by various different physios, and Pilates, and I’m apparently ridiculously weak.... I had an abortion because I didn’t think I could have a baby. I didn’t think I could handle it...carrying it, and having extra weight on my stomach.”

Or this builder, who consulted an orthopaedic surgeon for his low back issue:

“[The orthopaedic specialist] looked at my back MRIs for a little while and turned around with a grin on his face and said, “You’re a builder, aren’t you?” and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “You’re [expletive], ha ha ha,” and went back to his computer again.... So, you know, I think that was his rather odd specialist way of breaking the news to me that I wouldn’t be working as a builder for very long.... Every time I felt a little bit wrong [after that], I started to sort of add it up in my head.”

It makes me seethe, that the advice of health professionals can disempower to this degree. Social media is littered with examples of similarly damaging narratives around pain and injury. Fear sells and some practitioners have this down to a fine art. 

I am driven to do so much better than this, it’s what makes me tick.

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