Profanity in Physio​therapy

WARNING:

This blog contains some strong adult language and is not meant to be taken too seriously. So if you are easily offended please DO NOT read on, you have been warned!

You may have noticed that I swear a bit now and then. Actually, I swear a fucking lot. This is not to be deliberately crass, vulgar, or offensive, it’s just how I communicate and express myself. Now despite some malicious rumors circulating, I am actually very well educated, polite, courteous, and respectful, with strong morals and ethical boundaries, yet I still like to swear like a drunken sailor.

Despite what some say swearing isn’t only for the ill-educated or for abuse or offense. Swearing can also be used to be witty, funny, and entertaining, and it’s a great attention-grabber. However, swearing is often seen by many as only being harmful and negative, but there is another positive side to swearing.

I often use colorful language in both private and public conversations with many people including those on social media to emphasize a point, grab attention, or just too lighten the mood and have some fun. However, over the last few years, I have had more and more comments and complaints from people who dislike my swearing in any situation an in any context. They tell me that any swear language used at any time is both unacceptable and unprofessional and that it shows a lack of integrity and intelligence

Well, I call fucking bullshit on that, and I’m going to show you how swearing can be a sign of intelligence as well as being positive and affirming, and how it can help us connect and communicate with people better. I also want to start by taking a look at the long, prestigious, and noble history swearing has, and how it has been part of our culture for as long as we have been communicating.

 

Fuck Sake!

When you look into the history of swearing it really is fucking fascinating. The English language is a bastardized amalgamation of many other languages such Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Norse, Spanish, Italian, and even Hindi, however, most of our swear words originate from our Germanic cousins with the Germanic words arsch, scheissen and ficken not needing much translation even in these days.

The reason that these words were deemed offensive and unintellectual dates back to William the Conqueror when he took control of Britain back in 1066 after the ‘Battle of Hastings’. During Willaims reign, the country was heavily divided by language with the new noble classes speaking either French or Latin dialects, and the conquered commoners speaking the more traditional Germanic-English dialect.

This split in class and language still remains today with swearing still often being deemed as low class and often called ‘vulgar’ which coincidentally is a word derived from Latin meaning ‘of the common crowd’. It also explains why these words have acquired their power to offend, as they were seen by the so-called higher classes due to their prejudices that the language and vocabulary of the nobles was elevated and cultured, whilst that of the commoners was distasteful and bad.

Fuck That!

However, there were times when swearing is considered to be one of the noblest and honorable things a person could do. For example, have you ever wondered why we call telling the truth or promising a pledge to be ‘swearing an oath’.

Well back in the middle ages, and still in some places today effin’ and jeffin’ at God is thought to grab his (or her’s) attention. Many priests and knights back then would turn the air blue using language that would curdle cheese and make a battle-hardened trooper blush as they literally swore at God to prevent them from breaking a vow or pledge.

The reason they swore directly at God was that it was believed to cause God harm if the oath or vow was broken. So despite swearing often being seen by many who are religious as bad, Christianity was heavily invested in swearing a lot with many of its senior monks, priests, and bishops swearing at God.

In today’s society, many also now think swearing is a sign of low morality and intelligence, however, yet again that’s fucking bullshit. Some research here shows individuals who can name more swear words tend to have a broader vocabulary and higher IQ levels than those who can’t, refuting the common assumption swearing is a sign of low intellect.

When done at the right time, in the right situation swearing can be really fucking creative, imaginative, and funny as fuck. Swearing at the right time in the right situation can capture attention, invigorate the sluggish into action, emphasize a point, and more importantly, make dull, boring topics and discussions like most fucking physiotherapy ones tend to be, a little more interesting and entertaining.

Swearing has also been linked with perceptions and impressions of more honesty and trustworthiness as discussed here and is something I believe in, as I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drop a shit, fuck or even a C-Bomb now and then.

Fuck It!

Even more interesting are the positive effects swearing can have on our ability to tolerate pain. I’m sure you can all remember a time when you cracked your head on a low beam, stubbed your toe on a table leg, or trapped a finger in something, and I will bet my left testicle that you all jumped up and down whilst shouting and screaming a few fucking obscenities whilst furiously rubbing the painful appendage.

This common phenomenon of swearing when we hurt ourselves led one of my now favourite researchers Dr Richard Stephens from Keele University, to conduct a study here into the effect of swearing whilst in pain, or as he calls it ’emotional language’. Legend has it he decided to investigate this after he heard his usually mild-mannered swear adverse wife use language during childbirth that he thought only drunken prostitutes would know.

In this study, Dr Stephens asked subjects to immerse their hands into icy buckets of cold water whilst remaining quiet and he timed how long they could tolerate it for. He then got the subjects to repeat this process a second time 24 hours later, but now asked subjects to swear whilst in the icy water. He found that the swearing helped the subjects keep their hand in the painful icy water for nearly twice as long as the first time.

Whilst it’s not exactly clear how or why this works, it’s believed that swearing and using taboo language triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ responses, with increased adrenaline and other pain modulation hormones secreted that help us combat and reduce other painful stimuli. However, a word of warning if you do like to drop a few fuck sticks and cock knuckles when in pain, a follow-up study here showed if you do it too much, too often the pain-relieving effects diminish, showing that again you can have too much of a good thing.

Fuck Pain!

So should be harnessing this positive effect that swearing has on pain? I mean after all, as evidence-based clinicians who try to help many people in pain shouldn’t we be trying to create that so-called window of opportunity  to help people move and function better, that everyone keeps telling me I should care about when I criticise manual therapy treatments or some other silly gadget or gimmick that’s said to help reduce pain?

So how about the next time you go and reach for that soft tissue scrapper, acupuncture needle, or neon coloured tape, how about instead you just ask your patients to shout out a few fucks, shits, wanks, or bastards instead? I mean it is, after all, a researched, citable, evidence-based, scientific pain-reducing intervention, and if I’m being honest its a lot simpler, cheaper, and more likely to be effective than many of the other treatments done under the very thin disguise of opening a window of opportunity.

Now, of course, I am being a little fucking sarcastic here, and I am not suggesting or advocating the random indiscriminate and inapproriate use of swearing. Rather I am just trying to show how swearing can have some positive uses and effects when used at the right time, with the right person.

I do understand that there are some very well-justified reasons, social constraints, and personal boundaries that we need to respect when it comes to swearing. For example, swearing in front of children is an absolute contra-indication, although I know many parents tell me it’s very hard to remember this all the time.

I think its also good practice to use disclaimers just like moves and TV programs do at the start of blogs, podcasts, videos, or social media posts just like I have done here, as well as on my profiles to warn people before they continue on that there may be some adult language used now and then. This gives people warning and choice to decide if they want to continue on or not.

We should also be mindful and careful about using swearing when talking face to face in front of new acquaintances who we haven’t established a relationship or rapport with. As always adapting and tailoring your approach to the individual in front of you is paramount and key to successful outcomes, and sometimes swearing can put some people off if used too soon or too often in new relationships.

However, there is the other side of this coin in that swearing can also help break down social constraints and hierarchical barriers that may be preventing and impeding building a relationship with someone new. Swearing can at times lower these barriers allowing others to see you as more like them and therefore more likeable and trustworthy. The skill and art here is knowing when, where, and who it’s ok to swear in front of, and I don’t have any firm rules other than to say if someone swears before you then I think it’s safe to say they won’t mind you doing it… its a bit like farting in that sense.

Fuck Off!

So in summary, swearing is a well-established and integral part of being human, allowing us to emote and express our feelings and can have both positive and negative implications. Swearing has a rich and colourful history and is part of our culture and communication despite what some pompous pricks and pearl-clutching c**ts try to claim. 

Swearing is natural, normal, and a healthy aspect of being human, and it is impossible for me to imagine going throughout life without swearing, and I have absolutely no fucking intention of doing so.

As always, thanks for reading… now kindly fuck off!

Adam

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  1. Absolutely love your articles and podcasts! Have been a PT for a l-o-o-n-g time. Enjoying your work here in New England, US.

  2. “Swearing when done well can capture attention, emphasize a point, and invigorate the sluggish into action….”
    Better do it right next time please!

  3. Morning,
    Excellent piece put in historical context. The good old Saxons new a word or two. And the Vikings in disguise AKA Normans were a worthy addition. William was a bastard by the way in both of its meanings.
    Never trust a person who doesn’t swear a wise old man used to tell me.
    Looking forward to the next chapter in the history of swearing you belligerent receptacle to put a scythe in.
    All the best

  4. Hey Adam,
    Im a German, that’s why its very funny what talking about swearing. I think what you said is a big problem. The human race love to believe in Santa Claus especially medical Jobs. Why is that? You have to think that most medical influence comes in history from alternativ branches and we love to believe in something mysterious what we can’t explain. The wish to heal is so big that dont want to believe in rational thinking. That is my short explaintation about these theme.
    I had an interesting discussion with an Chiropractics how is telling me that we need scientific Investigation for Manipulation on cervical spine in new Born. Because it is important to find out for handling and safetiness ( when you can “crack” when not. I showed him that is no evidence of benefits with cochrane Review. Then he sad that chiros are safe… showed me an study that no chiro klled a Baby, but he just looked always on the conclusion and not into the results. In the resulsts they mentioned that there is registrated major injuries on newborn after a chiro care.
    My conclusion is they love to believe in these bullshit equal there is a big ethical Problem or not.
    But thank’s for your blog. You give me Inspiration in my thinking. Sorry for the bad English

  5. When I was a physio student, I received a professional warning while on an acute care placement for calling a patient “mate”. The world has gone fucking mad Adam. Thanks for the blog mate.

  6. Swearing, and insults too are great relievers of tension, and pain, mental and physical. The English and Americans are wonderful experts at this skill.
    However the best show great variety in this territory. And variety in production is the spice of life. So using “f**king” 75-80% of the time is kind of softening its impact from overuse. There comes a point when listeners don’t even notice the word, which barely registers in their conscious minds. The swearing or the insult, too often repeated, loses its impact and efficacy.
    So variety is welcome, the more the better. Reducing the swearing world to just “f**king” gets quickly boring, same as calling weak minds “fool”, “idiot”, “jackass”, etc. Invention in swearing and insulting is a wonderful dimension of the creative mind. Suppressing them leads to an atrophy of the functions in our prefrontal cortex.

  7. I have loved your blogs ……. up until now! This one is ridiculous. How is this treating all of our clients with dignity and respect? You are not what I imagined Adam. I didn’t realise you are 16 years old and an idiot.

    • I’m sorry you didnt enjoy the blog, there is a clear disclaimer at the beginning that it may not be suitable for everyone, and so responsibility for your offence is soley yours. Also I find it quite ironic that you think I am 16 years old and an idiot yet you’re the one name calling and throwing ad homs around!

  8. Years ago I’m in a cubicle next to a colleague who was treating an older gent with some strong manual techniques prompting the old fella to let out, ‘you fucker, oooh you fucker……’.
    As is was a curtained off area with other patients about my colleague suggested that he maybe try using something a little less brutal, say, ‘you bounder’ or ‘you bugger’ instead.
    So the treatment recommences and I hear ‘ah, oh, oh you bounder, aaah you bounder, aaaaah you fucking bounder!’ Took me and my patient about 5 minutes to stop laughing.
    A few of us need to take a chill pill when it comes to language.
    Keep on keeping on.
    Cheers and get fucked.
    Andy