The Head Game and Why Certain Pain Killer Giant’s Recent Ad Has Made My Blood Boil

by Jess Ackad

As physios we are the experts in musculoskeletal related health and medicine, from how all the the bits fit together and function, what happens when they aren’t functioning, quite right and how to fix it with a combination of exercise medicine and muscular therapy. But none of that means anything if we can’t communicate that to you in a helpful and effective manner. COmmunication is the most important tool in our trade belts. Did you know that there is research out there showing that health professionals can make people’s conditions feel worse and breed patient dependence on frequent treatments, or better with improved function and decreased pain just by the language and imagery that is used when communicating with them!

Our bodies are awesome and generally capable of so much more than we think they are. A patient was telling me just the other day that the single most helpful thing he ever experienced with a physio was when Clint (who some of you will remember from his time with us before he moved back to New Zealand) told him about testing out a spine in an anatomy lab and just how tough it is to try to twist, bend, break or otherwise pull any part of it out of place or out of alignment. Using all his strength Clint wasn’t able to do anything to it other than flex and move it the way it is supposed to. This was a light bulb moment for this patient who no longer avoided moving in fear of damaging or injuring his back and gave him the confidence to do the things he needed to get past the pain he was experiencing.

Fear and anxiety are massive drivers of pain. We knew this and there is loads of research to support it. Ethically it is our job to help to relieve this form of anxiety. To communicate and use language that helps patients understand this to alleviate unfounded concerns.

Which is why when I saw an advertisement recently featuring a lit match morphing into an inflamed joint marketing pain relief medication it really made my blood boil. Now don’t misunderstand me here – painkillers definitely have their place and use, but can you imagine if you came to see me with a sore knee and I started to compare the problem in your knee with a match lit on fire – you are definitely not going to be feeling any better about it and probably have increased fear not just of the pain but of what the heat and inflammation might be doing to damage the joint, and even of what happens as a match burns out and yep, your knee is going to feel a hell of a lot worse. You are going to be popping those painkillers like nothing else now. Great for selling painkillers, but really not at all helpful, and ethically not something I could ever live with – good for business, but not good for recovery and empowering people.

We don’t always get it right, but a big part of what we do is try to impart our expertise to you in a way that gives you confidence in your body’s strength and its ability to get better, then we help and guide you to do just that. It’s both a professional responsibility and for me personally at least, an honour.