Profanity in Physio…​

WARNING: This blog is a little controversial and not meant to be taken too seriously. It does contain an odd rude word or two. So if you are easily offended or lack a sense of humour DO NOT read on!


You may have noticed that I swear a bit. In fact, I swear a lot, a fucking lot. This is not to be vulgar or offensive, it’s just how I have communicated for as long as I can remember. Despite common belief, I grew up learning about manners, politeness, and right from wrong, but I also grew up with swearing as a way to express excitement, joy, anger, frustration, or just as a way of saying hello!

I use colourful language a lot in day to day conversation with many people including on social media, and I often get many complaints from others telling me that swearing is not big nor clever and that it shows a lack of intelligence and professionalism.

Well, I’m going to show you another side of swearing, how it can actually be rather clever and even professional. I am going to show you how swearing can be positive and how it has been part of our history and culture for a long time and is a fundamental part of being human.


Fucking history

When you look into the history of swearing it really is fascinating. For example, have you ever noticed that despite the English language being a bastardised mix of many other languages such as Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Norse, Spanish, Italian, and Hindi, most of our swear words originate from our Germanic cousins with the words arsch, scheissen and ficken not needing much translation.

Why most of our swear words are assumed to be crass dates back to William the Conqueror when he took control of England back in 1066 after the famous ‘Battle of Hastings’. During his reign, the country was divided by language, with the higher nobler classes speaking the French-Gallo dialect, and the conquered commoners speaking the Germanic-English dialect.

This split in language back then is still why swearing is often called ‘vulgar’ (a word derived from Latin meaning ‘of the common crowd’). It also explains why these words have acquired their power to offend due to the long-held prejudices that the vocabulary of the French conquerors was elevated and cultured, whilst the vocabulary of the commoners was distasteful and rude.

But swearing isn’t ‘bad’ language, it’s just a type of language and if we move through history we can see that some of history’s best ‘goodie two shoes’ used to swear a lot. In fact, modern-day Christianity was founded on swearing during the Christian crusades of the middle ages, with the knights, monks, and priests of the church often ‘swearing to God’ quite literally.

Effin’ and jeffin’ to God was thought to grab his (or her) attention to your oath, and so many noble knights and priests would be heard swearing at God in an effort to prevent them from breaking their vow or pledge. It was believed that if you literally swore on God’s blood, pronounced ‘sblood‘ you would physically spill it in heaven if the oath or vow was broken.

However, in today’s society many think swearing is a sign of low morality and intelligence, but that’s not actually true! In fact, some research here has shown that those who can name more swear words actually score higher on IQ tests, demonstrating that those who have greater knowledge of swearing actually demonstrate greater levels of intelligence, so refuting the common assumption that swearing is a sign of stupidity.

When done well swearing can be creative, imaginative, funny. It can capture attention, invigorate the sluggish into action, emphasise a point, and more importantly, it can make boring topics and discussions like physiotherapy more interesting and entertaining. Swearing also makes you appear to be more open, honest, and trustworthy to others as discussed here and is something I truly believe in. I never trust anyone who doesn’t let out an F-Bomb now and then.

Fuck it!!!

Even more interesting is the effect of swearing on pain tolerance. Now I’m sure you can all remember a time when you have cracked your head on a low beam, stubbed your toe on a table, or trapped a finger in something, and I will bet my left testicle that you all jumped around shouting and cursing obscenities whilst furiously rubbing or squeezing the painful appendage.

Swearing 1

This phenomenon led a researcher Dr Richard Stephens to conduct a study here into the effect of swearing on pain tolerance after he heard his usually mild-mannered, clean speaking wife using language that he thought only a drunken merchant sailor should know during the birth of their child.

In the study, he asked 64 subjects to immerse their hands into icy buckets of cold water whilst remaining quiet and timed how long they could tolerate the painful stimulus for. He then got the subjects to repeat this experiment a second time a day later but asked subjects to swear whilst their hands were in the cold water. He found that whilst swearing the subjects could keep their hand in the painful icy water for nearly twice as long.

Whilst it’s not exactly clear how or why this works, it’s believed that the pain-lessening effects of swearing occur because it triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It is believed that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers when swearing may indicate an increase in aggression in the presence of a threat.

However, a word of warning if you do drop a few fucks and shits when in pain, a follow-up study here showed if you do it too much, too often the pain-relieving effects dimish.

So perhaps we should be harnessing this positive effect of swearing on pain? We often need to get people to do things when in pain, and many therapists tell me they look to create a so-called window of opportunity to help their patients do this, usually with some shitty manual therapy, or twatty tape, or crappy dry needles, or some other fucking pseudo scientific passive therapy.

So the next time you want to create this window of opportunity of pain reduction how about you simply ask your patients to shout out a few fucks, shits, wanks, or bastards? It is, after all, an evidence-based intervention, and actually probably more evidence-based than many of the other treatments done under the lame excuse of creating a window of opportunity.

Of course, I am being sarcastic and I am not suggesting or advocating the indiscriminate use of swearing and bad language. I do understand that there are some societal and social constraints and boundaries that we need to respect. For example swearing in front of children is an absolute no-no, and we need to be careful of swearing in front of new acquaintances we don’t know well, as well as offering warnings that swearing could occur in written or recorded publications, just as I did at the beginning of this blog.

Fuck off!!!

So in summary, swearing has a rich and colourful history and despite some pompous pricks out there trying to claim otherwise, it is an important part of being human. Swearing is surrounded by many misconceptions such as being uncouth, uneducated, or a sign of low intelligence or morality, all of which is fucking bull shit. For me, it is impossible to imagine going throughout life without swearing, and I have absolutely no fucking intention of doing so.

As always, thanks for reading… 

Now fuck off… 


21 thoughts on “Profanity in Physio…​

  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.

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