Vaccines have resulted in saving millions of lives, yet somehow a sizable number of our friends and neighbors are highly skeptical about receiving one to counteract COVID-19.

In physical therapy practice, we now know that using words like “slipped disc” or “bone on bone” can promote catastrophic thinking in patients, which can lead to chronic pain and changes in the brain that can be seen on functional MRIs. Our brains are designed to perceive threats and deeply embed them to prevent harm.

With the vaccine messaging, our leaders and media have used phrases like “shots in arms,” which promotes an image of cattle lining up for inoculation. The visualization does not inspire confidence in the desired audience and instead could promote fear. Granted, leaders had to react quickly, but not taking a moment to reflect on the message they were sending and how it would be perceived is perhaps a symptom of the underlying problem in our health care system: the lack of a biopsychosocial approach to health care. Not incorporating a patient’s individual circumstances and values can lead to poor outcomes and mistrust.

I am a physical therapist who is immunocompromised, making home visits to care for people who are also immunocompromised. We are very tired and want all of this to be over. However, we need to consider the words we use and our messaging to bring people with us onto the pathway out of this mess with compassion, understanding and an investment in time.

Bill Anderson
physical therapist and owner, Resilience Maine

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