I’m a big believer in the power of language and what it represents. The words we use are an indication of what lies deeper within us. After over 15 years of interviewing and communicating closely with people in a health care setting, I have become more and more aware of this.

Just as body language can be a powerful cue for deeper or alternative meaning in what we say, so too can the tone, the style and the content of our verbal language be an indicator of the same.

We spend a lot of time talking about the power of the clinician or health care provider’s language. The delivery, the agenda, the structure and the terminology are all very persuasive things coming from a position of trust. But what about the language we use as a patient?

Have you ever told a health professional something in the manner of – “My dodgy ankle” or “My terrible knees” or “My bad back” ? I’m sure a lot of us have. But have you ever thought about what that may mean or what it may represent? It is often accompanied by a sheepish look or awkward recognition by a patient that what they are saying is one of potentially many things – a failure, a limitation, a problem. For some, it’s a badge of honour. We are all different in this respect. But for me, it’s an indication of a barrier to recovery.

If you tell a lie, and you scratch your nose, for example? Have you ever been aware of this phenomenon. Experts can isolate your “tell”, something that occurs subconsciously in association with some sort of stimulus, in this case, telling a fib.

Well for me, when someone talks ill of a body part, it’s a tell that the body systems themselves are lacking trust in that body part. A body part that needs support or a bit of T.L.C. If we speak consciously in a derogatory way about our bodies, there is almost a guarantee that the automatic, subconscious feels the same, if not stronger. I can tell you, if there is this barrier in place, strengthening work is restricted, recovery is harder, pain relief is more challenging and return to function is more difficult.

I have two rules in my clinics that relate to language used by my patients;

1. When I ask you how you are, you are not allowed to respond with a negative or an indicator of your pain or discomfort. There is plenty of time for us to talk about that in the consult. I want people to spend more time talking about the good things that are going on. Cool, you had a good work day? Why, let’s talk. You’re happy? Awesome, tell me more. You’re in pain? Well, I know that, otherwise you wouldn’t be here!

People have a risk of becoming encompassed by their pain, to the point where it speaks for them. Not a good thing.

2. No derogatory talk about your body. It is your body, it is you. Its like talking badly about your best friend in front of them, how do you think they will respond? Of course it will be negatively! You cant expect your ankle to get better by itself, it needs you after all. So love it and give it a better environment for improvement.

So there is no such thing as ” My terrible ankle”. But there is such thing as “My ankle that has so much potential for improvement”!

So ask yourself? Which language do you use? And how does that impact your health?

In Clinic