The more I practice as a physical therapist and work with all kinds of different people, the more I realize how important and powerful words are. About a month ago, I was reminded of this when I was working with a young man who has had a wide range of persistent pain and physical limitations for many years that have significantly changed his life for the worse. It even got to the point where he had to quit a job after one day of work.
Everything began when he was in high school and had surgery on his feet. Since then there has been a cascade of events and misinformation that has landed him where he is today. He sought help from a number of different practitioners over this time but one of the episodes stands out. At one point a comment was made about his feet and how they were forever changed due to the surgeries. His "foundation" was permanently altered and he would have to make changes in his lifestyle. Fast forward to now and these words have been in his head for a long time influencing his life in ways that the practitioner probably never expected. For example, he wasn't sure if he could or should run even though he wanted to.
Now I am sure there was no intent by the practitioner to create this kind of reaction but it is a perfect illustration of what words can do and the power that we, as healthcare providers, can wield. Voltaire famously said, (or Uncle Ben from Spiderman if you prefer), "With great power comes great responsibility," and I am completely convinced of this as a physical therapist. When a client enters my office, there is an expectation that I am an expert in my field and have answers to his/her questions. My words have weight and meaning, and because of this, can be extremely influential both positively or negatively. I do not take that idea lightly and for that reason, I do my best to choose my words very carefully in order to have the best outcomes possible. Ultimately, my goal is to dispel fears and myths and use language and education as another powerful tool to help my clients reach their goals.
As the consumer, you have the power to ask questions and understand the reasoning behind what myself or any other healthcare practitioner is saying. (To be clear, I am obviously not talking about emergency situations.) It is important to ask 'why' if something does not make sense. It is healthy to have some skepticism to protect yourself when you hear or read something that does not make sense, rubs you the wrong way or is flat out wrong. That is the beauty of the second opinion. You can choose what the right fit is for you based on a number of factors, words and language being one of them.
Whether I was the second, third or fourth opinion, I am glad that this young man was able to find me and finally get help, advice and guidance that has reversed some of the negative consequences already. The situation was a great reminder and learning tool for me and I hope it will be useful for you as well.
Knowledge = Power; Share The Power:
Dr. Greg Cecere
Your personal physical therapist, movement educator and knowledge dispenser.
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The contents of this blog is meant for educational purposes only. Momentum Physical Therapy of New Paltz and Dr. Greg Cecere are not responsible for any harm or injury that may occur due to any information on this blog as it is by no means a substitute for a thorough evaluation by a medical professional.