The diction of doom

The way the medical world views pain dooms its victims to failure. What’s shocking is that it stems from a lack of linguistic precision.

Think about this example. Your friend is lying in bed, sweating and coughing and complaining of congestion. His temperature is 103 degrees. He feels dizzy and weak and occasionally cold.

You would say he has a fever, right?

Now, would you say the fever is causing the headache? Would you say the fever is causing the intermittent feelings of cold? Would you say his hot forehead is caused by the fever?

It’s easy to let your tongue slip and say, “yeah, he has a headache from his fever” or “his forehead is hot because of his fever.”

But you’d be WRONG for the same reason diagnoses like “chronic fatigue syndrome” and “fibromyalgia” are wrong.

The reality is that a “fever” is just the name given to a set of conditions (namely, having a high temperature, feeling dizzy, getting chills, having a hot forehead, etc.). But that collection of symptoms isn’t caused BY the name. The name is just an easy way to refer to them as a group.  The fever is a phenomenon that’s caused by something else — an infection, generally.  It’s a symptom of something wrong.

Now I said that “chronic fatigue syndrome” and “fibromyalgia” are wrong.  Here’s what I mean.

The pain is a symptom of something wrong.  It isn’t the thing that is wrong.

But pain that is chronic, persistent, irritating, and consistent is starting to get names.  And those names make the pain sound like a disease.  And these pseudo-diseases are being treated as diseases to be managed with stronger pills and surgeries.

Chronic fatigue. Fibromyalgia. Regional pain syndrome.  Tennis elbow. Carpal tunnel.  Thoracic outlet.  These are all fantastic names.  Fabulous names, really, because they all sound so menacing.

What these names all have in common is that they are being used as disease diagnoses when they shouldn’t be.  None of these names even hints at the cause of the set of symptoms they describe.  Just look at the way they’re treated and discussed.

The same way fever doesn’t tell you the cause of the associated symptoms, the medical diagnoses for chronic fatigue syndrome doesn’t tell you the cause of your problem. Chronic fatigue doesn’t CAUSE you to be tired and in pain all the time.  Chronic fatigue is an easy name to refer to a situation where you’re in pain and tired all the time.  Now, lots of studies are done on the underlying physiology of the blood and the chemical levels and all that great fantastic stuff, but it’s all still just looking at a set of symptoms and hoping that addressing one of those symptoms will halt the progression of the other symptoms.  Since you don’t know the cause, all you can do is fuddle about with different treatments (mostly pills that disrupt the physiological changes that are happening).

Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause body-wide pain and tightness.  Fibromyalgia IS when your whole body hurts and you have lots of tightness. That doesn’t even begin to explain WHY everything hurts and is tight.  That’s a crucial, crucial distinction!  Without addressing the cause, all you can do is pop stronger pain pills to try to “manage” the disease…except the disease isn’t even a disease!  It’s a collection of symptoms.

Finally, take carpal tunnel.  Carpal tunnel doesn’t cause wrist pain.  Carpal tunnel IS wrist pain with impingement happening at the wrist.  But that still doesn’t tell you the cause of that impingement.  It just tells you that it’s happening, and that it’s also accompanied by pain.

That’s important for those who are now finding that carpal tunnel release surgery is only a temporary fix.

What’s important to note is that as chronic pain starts getting more and more names, people are getting more pills and more crazy surgeries. And yet the results are hit and miss or downright abysmal in terms of recovering quality of life.

Because of a simple misuse of words, these medical treatments aren’t treating diseases — they’re treating symptoms.  And the result is people with pain that never goes away and whose quality of life diminishes day by day.

It’s the diction of doom.  It’s like treating the fever without treating the infection.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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