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 pathetic complaints. So if you are easily offended or lack a sense of humor DO NOT read on!


You may be aware that I have a tendency to swear a little bit now and then. In fact, I swear a fucking lot. As a consequence, I often get shit loads of complaints about my swearing with many telling me that it’s not big nor clever. Well, I’m going to show you how swearing is actually rather clever and quite interesting when you look into it. I’m going to try and show you how swearing can actually be really fucking good.

When done well swearing can be funny, capture attention, emphasise a point, make boring topics more interesting, invigorate the sluggish into action, even help social bonding and relationships. When you look into the history of swearing it really is fascinating. For example, have you noticed that despite the English language being a 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 arsch, scheissen and ficken not needing any translation.

Most of our swear words that we use today share this heritage with our German ancestors’ thanks to William the Conqueror. When the Frenchman William took control of England in 1066 after the famous ‘Battle of Hastings’ the country was divided by language with the higher noble classes speaking the French Gallo-Roman dialect, but the rest of the country, the so-called commoners, speaking old the English-Germanic dialect.

This split in society back then is still why swearing is today considered ‘vulgar’ (a word derived from Latin meaning ‘of the common crowd’) and also explains why these words have acquired their power to offend the pompous nobles due to the long-held prejudices to view the vocabulary of the old french conquerors as elevated and cultured, and the vocabulary of the conquered commoners as distasteful and crass.

However, modern-day Christianity was also founded on swearing by the noblest of the noble when they ‘swore to God’. Effin’ and jeffin’ to God was seen as an attempt to compel God to pay attention to your promise. Many noble Christian knights, monks, and priests would curse on a body part of God to prevent them from breaking a vow or a pledge, to do so was to dishonor God and risk eternal damnation. It was believed that if you swore on God’s blood, said ‘sblood‘ or his bones, you would physically spill his blood, or break his bones in heaven if the oath was broken.

Many also incorrectly think swearing is a sign of low intelligence or morality. Well, swearing has actually been shown to demonstrate the exact opposite here. This study showed that those who swear more colourfully are more fluent in other language skills, refuting the common assumption that an ability to generate a foul stream of bad language is a sign of language poverty.

Swearing has also many other positive features such as making you appear more open, honest, and trustworthy to others here. But even more interesting is that swearing can help with pain tolerance. I’m sure you can all remember a time when you have hit your head, stubbed your toe, trapped a finger in something and jumped around shouting and cursing obsentities whilst furiously rubbing or squeezing the painful appendage.

Swearing 1

This common occurrence led a researcher called Dr Richard Stephens to conduct a study here into the effect of swearing on pain tolerance after he heard his wife going through painful child birth using words that he thought only a seasoned merchant sailor should know. In this study, he asked 64 subjects to immerse their hands into an icy bucket of water whilst remaining quiet. He then repeated the experiment but this time asked subjects to swear. He found that whilst swearing the subjects could keep their hand in the 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. They suggest that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swear words 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 using and harnessing this effect of swearing on pain in our line of work? We often see people in pain, we often need to ask them to do things when in pain, and many therapists often tell me they want to create a so-called ‘window of opportunity‘ to help patients do their rehab, usually with shitty manual therapy, or crappy quackupuncture, or some other bull shit treatment.

But how about the next time you want to create this window of opportunity you simply ask your patients to shout out a few choice F-bombs or throw a few C-grenades around? It is, after all, an evidence-based intervention, probably more evidence-based than many of the other shitty treatments done under the lame excuse of creating a window of opportunity.

However, I am not suggesting or advocating the indiscriminate use of bad language here, we need to be respectful and mindful of the societal restrictions with swearing. 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 bad language could occur in written or recorded publications, just as I did at the beginning of this blog to give poeple the option to avoid if they wish.

So in summary, swearing has a rich and colorful 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, common, and a sign of low intelligence or morality, all of which is fucking bull shit. It is impossible to imagine going throughout life without swearing, and I for one have absolutely no twat twaddling, cock fondling, ball busting fucking intention of ever doing so.

As always, thank you for reading mutha fuckers…


19 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!

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