You're Not as Broken as you Think

I often find myself saying this to patients, and I wanted to mention it here too, as it is all too easy to read articles, or Google online, or hear feedback from healthcare professionals (HP), that makes you feel like you’re falling apart.

When we visit a HP we are conditioned to expect an explanation of how our bodies have failed us or how we have broken down. We begin by expecting the worst.


It is very easy to become hyper-aware of faults and flaws, and often the language used by HP’s can feed these feelings.

Destructive and negative language you may have heard:

  • Your back is damaged, vulnerable, unstable or weak
  • You have to be careful from now on
  • You should avoid…..
  • Your back or joint has worn out
  • This is what you can expect as you get older
  • Stop if you feel pain

Language like this causes hyper-vigilance, fear and anxiety. Research shows that there is more guarding and protective behavior in patients that believe their back is weak or unstable. Therefore patients struggle to cope, using inappropriate methods such as excessive rest and avoidance, which results in feelings of disability and helplessness.

Even the inappropriate use of scans and x-rays can lead to poorer outcomes due to pathologising the problem.

In contrast to popular belief, there is little evidence that back pain is associated with a loss of stability. Rather, there is growing evidence that altered movement patterns and increased trunk muscle co-contraction are associated with the recurrence and persistence of back pain, providing opportunities for targeted management.

Compare how you feel when you read these more positive phrases:

  • Your back is one of the strongest structures of the body
  • It is rare to do permanent damage to your back
  • Back pain does not mean your back is damaged – it means it is sensitised
  • Relaxed movement will help your back pain settle
  • Your back gets stronger with movement
  • Your scan changes are normal – like grey hair
  • Lets work out a plan to help you help yourself

You aren’t fragile. You are strong. If you can take a step back and look at all the good your body is doing, I guarantee you, it will far out weigh the bad. Your body’s reaction to dysfunction and injury is perfect in every way, and our job as HP’s is to support this, not to suppress it.

Pain and inflammation is a necessary part of healing. Trust your body and what it is telling you, it is working hard all by itself to get you pain-free again.

The reality is, you’re doing a lot better than you think!


Emma Wightman

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