The Impact of Language on Recovery of Musculoskeletal Injury

“When will I make a full recovery?” or “When am I going to be 100%?” These are one of the most common questions my patients ask me when they come in for their initial assessment or throughout their exercise rehabilitation program. I used to always struggle to give a definite answer as there are many factors that come into play. What I have learnt through my experiences in working in the compensable system, is that it depends on the patient asking me and what their definition of full recovery is.  So, when I get asked those questions now, I ask my patient, “what does full recovery mean to you?” By asking this I have drawn my focus on what their end goal is and what they think will help them reach full recovery.

In the workers’ compensation system, my strategy is to implement goals focused on optimising function, participation and return to work. At the initial assessment, I would develop SMART goals in collaboration with my patient. I have found that when my patient has a role in determining goals and treatment, better outcomes are achieved. One approach I implement is the wording I use when explaining medical and technical words. The words that are used can have a significant impact on the clinical outcome. Words contain both the ability to heal and harm. In the image below, shows some of the typical works I tend to avoid and a list of alternatives.


Words to Avoid Alternatives
Degenerative changes Normal age changes
Wear and tear Normal age changes
Instability Needs more strength and control
Neurological Nervous System
Tear Pull
Damage Reparable harm
Paraesthesia Altered sensations
Trapped nerve Tight, but can be stretched
Disease Condition
Bulge/herniation Bump/swelling
Effusion Swelling
Chronic It may persist, but you can overcome it
You are going to have to live with this You may need to make some adjustments


Daniel Nguyen (B.Sc. Exercise Physiology)

Senior Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AES, AEP) (ESSAM)



Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2018 Volume:48 Issue:7 Pages:519–522 DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2018.0610