How we communicate with patients experiencing chronic pain could be as important as what we do

People’s understanding about what is causing their pain, what they should do about it, and what will happen, has considerable influence on how they recover from back pain. This paper, by Ben Darlow and colleagues at the University of Otago, highlights the important role clinicians play in influencing these beliefs. This study found patients could think their back was vulnerable as a result of receiving diagnostic labels (like disc sprain). Advice to strengthen, control posture, lift with special techniques, or avoid certain activities, reinforced views the back should be protected. In contrast, clear advice about activity and appropriate reassurance could be very empowering. The things that clinicians said appeared to influence patients for many years (for better or worse). This reinforces the need for clinicians to reflect on their own beliefs and how they may be communicating these to their patients. Clinical consultations provide an opportunity to have long-term positive influences on patient beliefs.


For other reading on the importance of communication in clinical practice, including the importance of providing accurate, evidence-based information on what is “safe” for the spine, check out this previous post.

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