Words do much more than covey the facts; words pain pictures. The conversations surrounding pain are already laden with emotion. Emotionally charged words with the nuance of judgment, accusation or blame disempower; they are best avoided. Emotionally neutral descriptive words empower; use these.
Situation: You want to describe the person living with pain.
Use these words: Person living with pain, person with pain, person with arthritis.
Avoid these words: Pain sufferers, pain patient, suffers from pain, arthritis patient.
Situation: You want to describe the medication treatment plan.
Use these words: Medications, opioids, pain relievers, analgesics
Avoid these words linked to illicit drugs: Drugs, narcotics, pain relievers
Situation: You want to describe the tools that support for the activities of daily living.
Use these words: Person with disability, uses a wheelchair
Avoid these words: Disabled, confined to a wheelchair, handicapped, crippled
Situation: You hear your sister describe your mother as a pain sufferer.
Use these words: “Mom’s more than just her pain. Let’s describe her as a person who lives with pain.”
Situation: A newspaper article describes ”narcotics use in pain patients. “
Contact the journalist and say, “Thanks for your great article drawing attention to chronic pain as a public health issue. You would be doing a public service by using neutral language. Instead of “pain patient,” which reduces a person to their pain, try “person living with pain.” Instead of narcotics, which implies street drugs, try opioids. I know this seems like nitpicking; however people living with pain are often judged.”
© 2015. Vicki Rackner MD. All rights reserved.