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After my previous blog on DOMS, in which I started by listing words I have an irrational dislike for, it got me thinking. How important are the words we use? How influential are our conversations, or status updates, knowingly or unknowingly? It has long been know that how we discuss things in a clinical environment can have great effect on a persons pain level. As this paper – The effects of positive or negative words when assessing postoperative pain – shows “Negative or harsh words such as ‘pain’ and ‘sting’ used to describe sensations prior to potentially painful procedures have been shown to increase pain…….Words that focus the patient on pain during its assessment may lead some to interpret sensations as pain which they might not do otherwise”

And as the brilliant Lorimer Mosely says on, “Pain is always – 100% of the time – no exceptions – created by your brain and it makes you do something to protect your body.” We know that the brain processes a perceived threat, and translates that in a way that best suits its need of self-preservation. Even if that threat is verbal? “…when it comes to MRIs, these usual things are then given rather scary names, such as “broad-based disc bulge”, “degenerative changes” and spondylolysis. Credible evidence of danger? Sure sounds like it. And, because of your own fearfully and wonderfully complex system, your brain will store this information and quite possibly turn up the “need to protect” meter…”

We also know that the majority of MRI scans are misleading at best – see image by Adam Meakins @AdamMeakins – which shows that 50% of people in their 40’s will have a level of disc bulge, and be pain free. So we can see that the words used can greatly alter the persons perception of their symptoms. We can talk ourselves into being in pain.


So what can we do to make a positive change? The fundamental message from any clinic should be about movement. Movement is good. No, Movement is key. And at a time when hardly a week goes by without an Obese Britain type headline, we can all do our bit to get people moving.

Instead of telling the world how “hard” we work at the gym, how much that session “hurt“, how our legs just got absolutely “destroyed“, how about we tell them how much “fun” we have, how much we “enjoyed” that session, how much “better” we feel after each session of physical activity?

Instead of telling the world “weights make you bulky“, or “running hurts your knees” (both incorrect, by the way), and arguing over which is ‘best’, why not simply congratulate others for being proactive, and accept that some people enjoy lifting weights, and some people enjoy running.

This may seem a tiny, insignificant change. It’s not. It may get someone active. It may get someone out of pain.

If we can change peoples perception of gyms, or boot camps, or running, or whatever it is that some people may find intimidating, then maybe we can make a difference to people who struggle to be active.

It’s probably worth a try?

N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldn’t be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work.

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