Profanity in Physio…​

WARNING: This blog is a little controversial, and a lot tongue in cheek. It is meant not to be taken too seriously and does contain the odd rude word or two, although it has been heavily censored from its original version due to some complaints. 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. Now, this is not in an effort 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 right from wrong, but I also grew up with swearing as a common way to express excitement, joy, anger, frustration, concern, or just as a greeting!

I find myself using colourful language a lot in every day to day conversation and of course online, and as a consequence, I get a lot of complaints with many taking offence, 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 its been part of our history and culture for as long as we have communicated, how it is a fundamental part of being a human, but more importantly I want to show you how swearing can actually be rather clever and quite interesting when you look more into it.

When you look at the history of swearing it really is fascinating, for example, have you ever noticed that despite the English language being a wide, diverse, and complex 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 German words arsch, scheissen and ficken not needing any significant translation.

Why most of our swear words share this heritage with our German ancestors’ dates back to William the Conqueror. When William took control of England in 1066 after the famous ‘Battle of Hastings’ the country was divided by language with the higher nobler classes speaking the French-Gallo dialect, and the rest of the country, the so-called conquered commoners, speaking old the Germanic-English dialect.

This split in society is still why swearing is often called ‘bad language’ and considered ‘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 view the vocabulary of the old French conquerors as elevated and cultured, and the vocabulary of the conquered commoners as distasteful and crass.

Swearing isn’t bad language, its just language and if we move through history we can also see that some of history’s do-gooders used to swear a lot, in fact, modern-day Christianity was founded on swearing. During the medieval times and Christian crusades the knights, monks, and priests of the Christian church often ‘swore 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, monks, and priests would curse to God in an effort to prevent them from breaking a vow or a pledge, to do so was to dishonour God and risk eternal damnation. It was believed that if you literally swore on God’s blood, pronounced ‘sblood‘ you would physically spill his blood in heaven if the oath was ever broken.

However, many today now think swearing is a sign of low morality and intelligence and its positive attributes throughout history have been forgotten. Well not completely, as some research here has shown that colourful fluent swearing actually demonstrates a greater level of intelligence refuting the common assumption that swearing is a sign of language poverty.

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

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

Swearing 1

This common phenomenon led researcher Dr Richard Stephens to conduct a study here into the effect of swearing on pain tolerance after he heard his usual mild calm non-swearing wife going through childbirth using words that he thought only a seasoned merchant sailor should know.

In the study, they 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 repeated the experiment a second but this time 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 occur because swearing 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 in order to deal with it. However, a word of warning if you do drop a few F-bombs 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 patients do this, usually with manual therapy, or needles, or some other bull shit.

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

Now, of course, I am not suggesting or advocating the indiscriminate use of swearing and bad language, and 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, as well as offering warnings that swearing could occur in written or recorded publications, just as I did at the beginning of this blog to give people the option to avoid if they wish.

So in summary, swearing has a rich and colourful history and despite some pious, pompous, pricks trying to claim otherwise it is a vital, fundamental, and 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 ever 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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