“You know what really helped me?” a patient recently said during her second treatment with me. “The fact that you told me that my back wasn’t going to go out.”
I hear this type of thing often. This particular patient was suffering with lower back pain, and had a previous history of an exceptionally debilitating episode that made her temporarily unable to care for her two young children. Her fear level was high. On her first visit to the clinic, I spent much of our time together talking with her, explaining what was happening to her back, and why she was having pain. Patient education is patient empowerment. I did some hands-on manual therapy and then we chatted about rehabilitation exercises and the importance of movement, something that people in pain tend to avoid. The last words I said to her before she left were along the lines of “don’t worry, you’re going to be fine, and your back pain is going to go away.” A huge part of my job is patient education, because knowledge is power.
And just so that we’re all on the same page moving forward, backs don’t “go out” and then “go back in,” running does not cause arthritis in your knees, and getting adjusted three times a week for the rest of your life will not prevent stage three spinal degeneration. Yet these are all proclamations that patients come in and tell me about themselves; these blanket statements are untrue and damaging, and in most cases, patients have been told these things by a health professional. As chiropractors, and certainly as all healthcare providers, we cannot underestimate the power of our words for the good and for the bad. If you have a patient’s trust and respect, you have the power to remarkably alter the course of their healing and the perception of their body’s abilities through your words alone.
This is the same reason that medical imaging can often be detrimental; because it affects a patient’s psyche. Did you know that in many cases, there is actually a very poor correlation between what is shown on a medical image (an X-ray, for example) and a patient’s symptomatology? But if a patient is shown an x-ray of “degenerative joint disease” (that’s a fancy term for arthritis) in their spine, they will come to believe that they have an arthritic, incapable, dysfunctional body. This person then tends to become fearful of movement and therefore moves less. And what creates a perfect storm for unhealthy joints? Lack of movement. Herein lies the problem.
Healthcare professionals: please do be careful with your words, and patients: please do be careful of what you listen to.