The Joint Ventures' Blog

Words Matter: The Importance of What We Hear, Say and Think

Friday, February 23, 2018

Words do matter, a lot. Language shapes the way we think and perceive our worlds, including our very own bodies and health. While the mind can seem separate from the body, it’s rather the opposite. Advancements in neuroscience research allow us to now confidently say, how we think, what we hear, and what we say can directly affect our health, pain, and function. 

Multiples studies (2) show the effect of words and their detriment to a person’s pain and health, words that have become so commonplace that they may appear harmless. Phrases like the ones below are prime examples, they drive a negative and rigid outlook on pain and health.

Words that May Hurt:

“Slipped disc”

“I threw my back out”

“Bone spur”

“I have bad knees, I’ll need a joint replacement in the future”

“Your knee cap isn’t tracking right”

“I shouldn’t lift more than 20 pounds”

“Don’t bend that way, it’s bad for your back”

“I don’t do squats because they are bad for my knees”

“Your back is unstable, you need more core stability”


This doesn’t mean that you or your clinician are being malicious in their word choice, as people are typically doing their best with the given information at the time, but it helps to think twice about the words we’re using. Luckily, there are studies (1) that show we can reverse the effects of harmful language with words that set more realistic and positive expectations, as seen below.


Words that May Heal:

“Your pain system is sensitive”

“My knee’s tolerance to load is a little decreased right now”

“Spines are strong and resilient”

“Your back is sensitive moving that way right now, but it will calm down”

“Motion is lotion”

“We grow like trees; we change as we adapt to life’s forces”

“I’m going to do a little more each day”

“My feet have carried me around the world”


These are just some examples. It’s less important to get bogged down in the specifics of what is “wrong vs. right”, but more important to see the bigger picture. That being:


#1: Our bodies are adaptable and resilient.

#2: Pain is more about sensitivity and protective responses than damage.

#3: Your can decrease that sensitivity with movement and lifestyle changes.


If what you hear, say or think resists these principles, than you may want to be mindful of this behavior. Along with a solid plan that focuses on movement and meaningful activity, positive language and thoughts will only assist your rehab process. It is important to ask questions throughout the process because the more accurately you can understand what your body is trying to tell you, the more success you can have with your outcomes.

If you have any questions about pain science, please stop by our Downtown Office or contact Keith Foley at  Or you can stop by our Prudential Office or contact Mike Amato at


  1. Bartels DJP, van Laarhoven AIM, Stroo M, Hijne K, Peerdeman KJ, Donders ART, et al. (2017) Minimizing nocebo effects by conditioning with verbal suggestion: A randomized clinical trial in healthy humans. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0182959
  2. Nickel B, Barratt A, Copp T, et al. Words do matter: a systematic review on how different terminology for the same condition influences management preferences. BMJ Open 2017;7:e014129

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