LIVE from the Align Conference in Denver, Colorado, I welcome Kory Zimney and Jessie Podolak on the show to discuss why language matters to patient care.  Dr. Zimney is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of South Dakota, Senior Faculty with International Spine and Pain Institute (ISPI), and researcher with Therapeutic Neuroscience Research Group and USD Center for Brain and Behavior Research. Jessie currently owns and operates her community’s first direct-pay physical therapy practice, seeing a variety of patients with acute and chronic pain conditions. She has been teaching pain science and manual therapy techniques at continuing education courses since 2013.

In this episode, we discuss:

-How language affects your actions

-Looking at language through the patient perspective

-What is negative effective priming

-Ways that you can enhance your communication style

-And so much more!


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For more information on Kory:

Kory Zimney, PT, DPT has been practicing physical therapy since 1994 following his graduation from the University of North Dakota with his Masters in Physical Therapy.  He completed his transitional DPT graduate from the Post Professional Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program at Des Moines University, Class of 2010. At this time, he is in the candidacy phase in the PhD PT program at Nova Southeastern University.

Currently Dr. Zimney is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of South Dakota, Senior Faculty with International Spine and Pain Institute (ISPI), and researcher with Therapeutic Neuroscience Research Group and USD Center for Brain and Behavior Research. His primary teaching, research, and treatment focus is with pain neuroscience, therapeutic alliance, and evidence-based practice for orthopedic injuries of spine and extremities.  He has published multiple peer reviewed research articles in these areas. Past work experiences have been with various community-based hospitals working in multiple patient care areas of inpatient, skilled rehab, home health, acute rehab, work conditioning/hardening and outpatient.

He has completed the Advanced Credentialed Clinical Instructor program through the American Physical Therapy Association and is a Certified Spinal Manual Therapist (CSMT) and assisted in the development of the Therapeutic Pain Specialist (TPS) through the ISPI certification program; and has a Certification in Applied Functional Science (CAFS) through the Gray Institute.

 For more information on Jessie:

Jessie received her Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from the College of St. Catherine, Minneapolis, in 1998. She completed her transitional DPT from Regis University, Denver, in 2011. She has been teaching pain science and manual therapy techniques at continuing education courses since 2013. Jessie currently owns and operates her community’s first direct-pay physical therapy practice, seeing a variety of patients with acute and chronic pain conditions. She has special interests in manual therapy, Pilates, spine and running injuries. She is a certified clinical instructor through the APTA and has completed her Therapeutic Pain Specialist certification through ISPI.





Read the full transcript below:

Karen Litzy:                   00:00                Hey everybody, welcome back to the podcast. I’m your host, Karen Litzy coming to you live from the align conference in Denver, Colorado. And I am fortunate enough to be sitting here with Kory Zimney and Jessie Podolak and we’re going to talk about the workshop that they did yesterday and will probably do again tomorrow on moving our language and why language matters around people with persistent pain. So my first question is why does it matter?

Jessie Podolak:                                      Well, words are powerful. We started off by just doing some cool quotes that words change worlds, right? And words can pierce like a sword.  The tongue of the wise brings healing. And that’s just ancient wisdom, right? We’ve known that words just have so much power. They shape our perceptions, they shape our action.  We know even from the research, just how we look at something.  So for example, one of the studies we cited was if crime is presented as a beast, okay, crime is a beast versus crime as a virus.

Jessie Podolak:              01:12                When crime is presented that way with just those two words. And we survey people and we say, what should we do about crime? Those who hear crime is a beast, 71% say we should increase law enforcement. 51% of those who hear crime has a virus say we should increase law enforcement. So the word evokes more of an action response when we hear the beast versus virus. And other one was the economy, is the economy stalled or is it ailing? If the economy is stalled, we jump start it, right, stimulus package. If it’s ailing, maybe we take measures that are really going to do long term change. We look at education levels or socioeconomic things and what can we do with this economy? So words shape so many things in general and in healthcare, the word surrounding pain, can evoke a lot of fear.

Jessie Podolak:              02:08                They can evoke a lot of a knee jerk reactions of what needs to get done. It can kind of force us to look at these more short term solutions. And I think that’s been a theme emerging throughout this conference is that there’s so many things that we do that are helpful in the short term but can actually be harmful in the long term. So the words that we have surrounding pain, probably lend themselves many times to short term solutions. And if we want to look at really a sea change in how we approach pain, we’ve got to think and consider our language.

Kory Zimney:                02:45                When we look at what we’re just talking about, you know, a lot of people, I think they look at it and they go, well that’s just a little change. You know, it was only 20% different. What’s the big deal? And to me, you know, and it’s all about nudges, that a lot of times it’s just these little changes that can make huge difference for some people. And I get for a lot of people it probably wouldn’t make a big difference, but if it did make a difference for a person, why wouldn’t I want to try to maximize every little opportunity that I could get? And I know some people look at it like, well, I don’t think language is that be all, a lot of people I can tell arthritis and they don’t have a problem because I used that word and I get that. But what about that one person that it did make a difference for? How do you know it didn’t make a difference for somebody? And if we have good evidence that shows that these little changes can make a difference, why wouldn’t we try to maximize every little bit of that?

Karen Litzy:                   03:33                Yeah. And I think that harks back to Kory to what you said this morning about everyone in the room has probably treated one person in pain and that’s great. You treated one person, but you can’t extrapolate what works for one person to a population. And so I agree that I think in as much as saying, do no harm, changing words around that might connect with someone I don’t think is going to be incredibly harmful. By reframing words that maybe we know might be a little harmful. Like arthritis or what are some other ones from yesterday?

Jessie Podolak:                                      One for me was wear and tear. How often do we say wear and tear. And what’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear wear and tear? What’s an object? Yeah, the tire. And what’s that gonna do? It’s gonna blow.

Jessie Podolak:              04:24                Right? So if I say you have wear and tear, what is kind of even a subconscious thing? They’re just waiting for it to blow. And how does that influence your movement? How does that influence the adventure you have in life? How does that influence your whole being? Just knowing I have wear and tear for some people they might say, well I don’t care. I’m going to wear it out. I’m going to grind that thing to the ground. But for others they might say, oh my gosh, these tires have to last me another 20 years. I better take really, really good care and back way off. So wear and tear is a hot button one for me.

Kory Zimney:                05:03                But yeah, so it’s just those little phrases that are so easy for us to throw around. But we have to recognize that the lens that the patient looks through is probably different than the lens that me as the therapist with all my education and training on how I look through it. And I think that’s just, again, taking that patient perspective is something that we all can hopefully try to do a little better sometimes.

Karen Litzy:                   05:28                Yeah. And one thing from yesterday’s class that I had never heard of before was negative effective priming. So can you explain what that is and then how we use it maybe not even knowing we’re using it as therapists.

Kory Zimney:                05:43                Yeah. It’s really kind of what you talk about is kind of what you start thinking about. And so if I’m telling you how you’re going to lose, if you don’t do your exercises, you won’t be able to do these things. And just create more of a negative type of attitude to everything, in everything the patient sees then will be directed more towards the negative.  Where if you can flip it to more of a positive type outlook as far as when you do this, you’ll be able to do these things and you can do that. And again, always flipping it to more of a positive direction. So again your just priming them, nudging them, turning them towards things that they can do as compared to, you lost this, you won’t be able to do that. So, it’s those little shifts and changes to focus on those positives. As a clinician, you know, you struggle like our patient’s so negative. And then we come up with these negative phrases sometimes and it’s like, well, how are we helping prime them the right direction?

Karen Litzy:                   06:34                Right, and what are some examples of maybe common negative priming that we may do as therapists?

Kory Zimney:                06:41                If you don’t do your exercises, you know, that shoulder’s gonna only get worse. You know, if you’re overweight, you know, this puts lots of extra pressure on your knees, they’re more likely to wear out. It’s just those little negative type of things. It’s so easy. We can look at, we were talking about what they lose, you know, the kind of the gain aspect or the loss aspect. And oftentimes we tend to talk about the losses and patients will get focused on that, on the negatives. That’s just human nature that we focus on negatives.  As a clinician, if we’re adding to that, it’s only going to multiply more. Back in younger days as a clinician, I’d always get so proud of, you know, if I could get their problem list to 10, I thought, how cool am I am double digits.

Kory Zimney:                07:24                You know what I mean? Just get that problem list as long as possible, you know, but really looking at the optimism list, what things can they do? You know, what things can they do better? And you know, isn’t that, how cool is that? That you can do that? In focusing on those things and what they can do better, what things they can do instead of on what things they’ve lost, what things they couldn’t. So that’s that kind of priming a kind of nudging more into a positive direction compared to our traditional, you got dysfunction, you can’t do this, you’re broken.

Jessie Podolak:              07:50                Yeah. And even the way we asked that question, Lindsay had just a really nice thing this morning that she talked about with goals instead of, you always think of, you know, what are your goals? And that’s kind of an obscure thing, but I think she asked it in a way that was something like, tell me something that you’d like to do more of, be better at, or return to doing that you currently can’t. It flipped it because it started, you know, there’s this great quote from a Ted talk that I love by Kelly McGonigal called making stress your friend. It’s awesome. She has this quote in there near the end where she said, you know, it’s so easier to run towards something than away from something. And if you look at your patients, what are they right in their goals?

Jessie Podolak:              08:29                I want to get rid of this pain. I want this away from me. I want to avoid it. It’s so overtaking their life that they’re running from it. But if we can just direct people towards what is to come and even get them to maybe cast a little vision, which I know is scary. Right? And you don’t want to have false hope. We talked a lot about that, about how to balance reality and honesty. And sometimes to say, I’m not sure how this is going to turn out, but I’m with you in it. Right? But I think, you know, this is the worst I’ve ever seen, or man, this is the biggest trigger point I’ve ever felt, no wonder you hurt.  Those things come from a place of pity or sympathy which it’s well intended, but it’s not as far on the empathy and compassion scale that we want.

Jessie Podolak:              09:26                We want that empathy and compassion of, I see where you’re at and where you’ve been, but I’m with you as we go forward, I guess how I look at it.

Karen Litzy:                                           Absolutely. And I think that sentiment of yes, I’m with you, but being honest, so doesn’t mean everything’s pie in the sky. And I think that’s where people, when they hear about this, explain pain, quote unquote or PNE, they think, oh, you’re just talking away the pain and you’re not being honest. You’re not being realistic. But that’s not what we’re saying when you’re talking about language and talking about communicating with someone who has persistent pain. So one of the examples we used yesterday was like hippo A and we said, you know, yes, you’re, you may have pain and we’re going to work on strengthening.  There is a chance you might need surgery, but if you do, you’ll be stronger going in. So you have to be honest, you can’t say to someone with severe hip OA, you’ll be fine. Just do a couple exercises. It’s just not realistic. And then when the person isn’t fine, that’s a steep fall.

Jessie Podolak:              10:18                Yes. And it goes back to this, not swinging too far on the pendulum away from the bio, it’s still bio-psychosocial. And how do you explain something that there are biomechanical issues in a way that’s not scary that still honors the bio, but that kind of de-catastrophizes or softens, it’s really just about softening and responding. Like watching the patient’s nonverbals. You can tell when you’re starting to freak somebody out. And so then you make the adjustment and you just be very, very present.

Jessie Podolak:              11:12                So it’s certainly our language, but like, as you know, Kory talked about is communication. And I really like what Jonie said about pain neuroscience communication versus just education, I the smart therapist I’m going to teach you, silly patient about how this works. No, this is about communication and dialogue and how do we do that?

Karen Litzy:                                           Yeah. And Kory, I think you said this yesterday, but correct me if I’m wrong, I think you said that the body is not fixed rather a robust ecosystem that has the ability to change and grow.

Kory Zimney:                11:54                Yeah. And that was actually a TPS grad that we have that talked about that. The beauty of the amazing plasticity and I mean I go back to when I used to, you know, work somewhere in our rehab unit and when a patient came in with a stroke, you knew there was brain damage and you could see the MRI report. But the beauty is you had no idea what they might be able to function and do afterwards, right? Because you’d look at those areas that were destroyed, where the infarct was and stuff like that. And some of them amazingly regained function and the ability to walk and their ability to transfer and get out of bed. So you just always had this ultimate optimism, you know, as the traditional neuro type of Rehab Therapist, when somebody would come in with their stroke or spinal cord and in their ability to be able to do things. But for some reason in the orthopedic world, we just have this like, oh, well, yeah, sorry.

Karen Litzy:                   12:38                Yeah, sucks to be you.

Kory Zimney:                12:44                We just create this, like the body can’t be adaptable to these things. And now that they’ve done the imaging studies on normal people, we’re all walking around this stuff. We’ve all had this beautiful adaptability, whether it was from a neurological orthopedic, any kind of change that’s gone on on our body, but we don’t ever appreciate, and look at that from that optimistic again in realistic sense, you know. But again, we know that if you have a little tear in your meniscus that might be an issue. Yes, it’s a huge bucket handle and you can’t straighten your knee out and it clicks every step. Yup. That’s probably a major deal. But otherwise a lot of people can get by with that. No, I don’t know with absolute certainty, but the beauty is we should be able to find out in four to six weeks because we can train the body, help it become more adaptable. We can explore different motions and movements and see how you do with it. And if it still doesn’t, the awesome thing is we do have surgical options, to make that better. And so that’s just that beauty of appreciating the adaptability of the human body. And I don’t know that we, for some reason, we seem to have lost that appreciation to some degree.

Karen Litzy:                   13:46                Yeah, and I think that’s something that I know I’ll be using with my patients just to say, listen, you are this robust ecosystem, and I think if we share that with all of our patients, I think they may have a mind shift change there.

Jessie Podolak:                                      Yeah. If you think of ecosystems, so many things go into it. Yeah. Right. It’s not just the musculoskeletal. I think just that if people could really view the body as juicy and more robust and just multifactorial, and I think that’s where maybe we got off track is we just started seeing the body as a machine.

Karen Litzy:                                           Which I have to say is my pet peeve. I hate when people say, your body’s just like a car. I’m like, no, it’s not because the car doesn’t breathe. We’re not mechanics. We’re not this. Like that is not how it works. Where I’d like to think as people we’re a little more complex and in a very good way, right? So now what would be the thing that you want people to take away from why language is important when it comes to working with people with persistent pain.

Kory Zimney:                14:56                For me it’s just being mindful of that, you know, taking that moment and again not to as a therapist, don’t overthink it either. Don’t think, oh, what words can I say? And if I said arthritis all crap, their patients going to catastrophize and never be able to walk again. No. But just be mindful of it and be present with your patient. Because when you’re truly present with your patient, you can see that look in their eye and you can get that sense that they may be getting a little bit worried or catastrophizing or a little anxious and stuff like that. So it’s that ability to just be present and mindful that words do matter. But again, not so overly mindful that you freeze and you don’t act either. We still have to just be human, just being a part of that. And again, that’s just that communication piece that really is what we’re talking about.

Jessie Podolak:              15:38                I would just echo what Kory said. It’s just be with your patients. Care, invest in them. Some of the patients who it takes every ounce of energy they have just to make it to your appointment. Realize that they’re giving you the trust and kind of the gift of their time and their precious energy. And so, even when you have that busy day, even when you know you’re kind of sucked dry, just to give them that time that you have with them and to slow down a little bit, listen, be mindful and you know, I just think it’s just about being a little softer, just softening out the rough edges and being that safe place. You know, Louis Gifford, one of our heroes said reassurance is an analgesic and sometimes we can’t reassure that that hip is going to not need surgery, but we can reassure that I’ll be with you. We’re in this, I’m in this with you. So that’s what I would say.

Karen Litzy:                                           Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Korey, Jessie, I appreciate both of you and I really enjoyed your talk yesterday, so thanks so much for coming on.




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©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.
©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.