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Watch Your Mouth: Why Your Specific Words with Patients Matter

Lower back pain is ranked the most common musculoskeletal complaint globally and is considered a major global public health issue. As chiropractors, it is expected for patients to receive chiropractic care that provides lower back pain improvements and remedies. But what if your words are influencing your patients’ pain?

Vincent DeBono, DC, Vice President of Innovation and Research, recently gave a presentation to the Missouri chapter of the American College of Physicians discussing the various factors associated with a patient’s pain experience. These factors include:

  • Biophysical Factors: alterations in muscle size and composition that differ from those without pain
  • Genetic Factors: family history of related pain or health issues
  • Psychosocial Factors: depression, fear, and avoidance of pain
  • Social Factors: physical workloads, income, access to care or level of education
  • Comorbidities: immunosuppressive disorders, drug usage or other cooccurring health issues

“Traditionally, chiropractic care has been focused on adjusting a patient’s spine to relieve low back pain,” Dr. DeBono said. “New research has found that there is so much more that goes into effectively treating patients in pain. The way we speak to our patients influences their treatment and recovery.”

Sometimes, it can be difficult for doctors – especially students who are just beginning to interact with patients – to refrain from speaking in technical terms. However, it is incredibly important for doctors to alter their language so the average person can understand.

“We often forget how literally patients take what we say,” explained Dr. DeBono. “For example, if you tell a patient the goal of their treatment is for them to be pain free, they may interpret that incorrectly, assuming if there is any remaining pain, the treatment has failed. However, this isn’t what we mean. Little alterations to our vocabulary can make a big difference. Instead, we could say, ‘The goal of this treatment is to alleviate pain and teach you how to manage it.’ This doesn’t mislead the patient or set them up for potential disappointment.”

Patient care is the most important thing to health care providers. What physicians say and how they say it can significantly impact patient recovery.

“I believe it is imperative that universities focus on educating and training students to properly communicate with patients,” said Dr. DeBono. “The way we speak to our patients is just as important as the physical treatment we provide for their pain.”