by Tyler Tice, PT, DPT, MS, ATC

Viewpoint Article backed by Research

As physical therapists, we encounter many different types of people with various personalities and diverse backgrounds. These people come see us to move better and to feel better with the mindset that physical interventions can help them achieve their goals. However, we cannot disregard the psychological impact we can have on our patient care and the language we use is a HUGE component of this.

In a viewpoint article published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, the authors give us insight on how the language we use with our patients can impact their understanding of their condition, their ability to improve, and the overall rehab process. Some common words that are mentioned to patients in day to day orthopedic care may actually be harmful and set them up mentally for a more challenging rehab process.

Below is a great chart that displays some of these common words that may have a negative connotation and can affect the rehab process. On the right side are suggestions for alternative words that patients can think of instead and what more clinicians should start using:

Chronic Degenerative Changes Normal age related changes
Negative test results Everything appears normal
Instability Needs more strength and control
Wear and tear Normal age changes
Neurological Nervous system
Don’t worry Everything will be okay
Bone on bone Narrowing/ tightness
Tear Pull
Damage Reparable harm
Paresthesia Altered sensation
Trapped nerve Tight, but can be stretched
Lordosis The normal curve in your back
Kyphosis The normal curve in your back
Bulge/herniation Bump/swelling
Disease Condition
Effusion Swelling
Chronic It may persist, but you can overcome it
Diagnostics X-ray or scan
You are going to have to live with this You may need to make some adjustments


Each word or phrase on the two sides have similar meanings, however the words on the right take some of the medical jargon out allowing patients to have a better grasp on their condition and be helpful for their rehab process.

The human body is complex and musculoskeletal rehab can be complex! But THAT’S OKAY, the physical therapists at Physical Therapy First are here to help make your rehab process go smoothly with less confusion. We have 1 on 1, hour long sessions with all of our patients which gives us the ability to provide you great care, get you feeling better, AND answer all the questions you have along the way!

Check out the article below for more information on this topic


Stewart M, Loftus S. Sticks and Stones: The Impact of Language in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018; 48(7):519-522