Pain Science

Words Matter

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Words Matter:
Language choices made in medicine


Communication between patients and their medical providers plays a large role in a patient’s understanding of their diagnosis and management options. It can drive a patient’s decision to undergo surgery, start PT, or choose no treatment at all. Whether it is your PT or PCP, you are likely being infiltrated by words which may be scary and/or confusing. Some examples might be “disc herniation of L3-5, severe foraminal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, tibiofemoral osteoarthritis, etc, etc.”


Research has shown that when a more medically precise term is used to describe a patient’s condition, they tend to have a stronger preference for choosing more invasive treatment options even if this might not be the best option. Additionally, a person feeling fear or anxiety as a result of such terminology is going to have greater difficulty making informed decisions that let them be an active participant in their care. To keep the story short and sweet, try to not let words scare you. And if you do find yourself scared by your diagnosis and treatment option, ask for an explanation that helps you understand your diagnosis better and that lets you move forward with confidence in whatever treatment option you choose. Chances are your diagnosis may not be as bad as it sounds in words or on the MRI report you receive from your doctor; and it may have several conservative treatment options that would be beneficial. Be an active participant in your care and seek out the answers to the questions you have to ensure you’re getting the best possible treatment for your condition.

Citation: “Words do matter: a systematic review on how different terminology for the same condition influences management preferences”