Selecting Words to Empower Our Patients

April 9, 2018

I wanted to first officially introduce myself as the new Director of Specialized Physical Therapy in Candler. Being a Physical Therapist for 10 years and having been in WNC for the past 7, I have worked with patients of all ages who are looking to get back to activities after an injury. I have learned over the years that communication is vital in developing a therapeutic alliance with patients, helping people understand their diagnosis, and provide positive encouragement to help with recovery. I felt as though it would be appropriate for my first few blog topics to center around communication and the importance of building rapport with your therapist.

As a Physical Therapist who specializes in the treatment of neck and back pain it is not uncommon for patients to present to me with questions, fears, and confusion regarding their diagnosis. Words such as “degenerative”, “tear”, “herniated”, “bulging”, and “disease” have become ingrained in their minds as they search for an answer to their painful complaints. These words can invoke fear and anxiety, leading to longer recovery times when dealing with pain. But how many people actually have degenerative changes in their bodies and isn’t that normal for the body as we get older?

A recent study in Spine Journal, one of the leading multidisciplinary international medical journals, actually showed that when reviewing the MRI’s of 1211 people without neck pain 87% had significant disc bulging. In other words a large percentage of people 20- 80 years old without ANY neck pain showed disc bulges on their MRI, which increased with age. In fact similar results were found for the low back in another study performed in 2015 and for the shoulder in 1995. Degeneration of the spine is a natural occurrence that happens with age, similar to wrinkles on your skin.  Sometimes a patient’s knowledge of abnormal MRI findings can actually decrease positive perception of health and may lead to fear of movement and a negative emotional response to pain.

That is why it is imperative as a clinician that I use words that promote healing and empower patients to continue to move. Your Physical Therapist should take the time out to explain what is going on, answer any questions you have and come up with a plan that is mutually decided upon for recovery. Just know that despite hearing these types of words or phrases associated with MRI findings, there is hope. Physical Therapists are trained in non-pharmaceutical management of recent onset back, neck, and shoulder pain as well as chronic pain. They can help to identify if something more significant is causing pain and make the appropriate referral to a physician. If you are unsure as to whether or not a Physical Therapist can help, call our clinic today and see if physical therapy can benefit you!

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