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Lost in translation – Chronic pain at

By Timothy Cocks Lost in translation 01 Jan 2014

It happens all the time, a new scientific discovery gets over-hyped in a media frenzy (antibiotics for back pain and differences in male and female brains are two recent examples that come to mind) and the stories about the responses to the story become further sensational headlines themselves.

Sometimes its a “new” take on an old problem; a miracle berry from the Amazon rain forest that makes you lose weight no matter what you eat.

At other times it can be outdated information that still gets trotted out and other times still it’s just plain old nonsense and rubbish that needs calling out.

We call these “lost in translation”; stories that appear in popular media that get it wrong (horribly at times) or try to grab attention; try to get your ‘clicks’ and ‘views’ in our electronic age, with fantastic headlines.

Far from being trivial, these are the stories that people in trouble, people that are looking for answers, looking for validation, looking for hope, looking for cures, looking for others that share their pain, looking for others that might just understand, looking for help, looking for… something, are reading.

These stories, no matter how much nonsense they contain can be powerful influences.  They can provide completely erroneous, but seemingly credible evidence for how much danger a person-in-trouble is in, drive up the sense of threat and act as powerful contextual cues to increase pain.

Here’s a topical one for the season:

‘Injured’ temp sues Amazon: Worker claims 11-hour shifts in giant warehouse left him with agonising back pain

Now, I’m not sure what kind of establishments the Daily Mail and the Mail Online are, but I’ve taken a rough guess based on the links to the other articles on the page… (UK readers may be able to confirm my suspicions).

The caption of the large photo of Mr Owen (is that a standing McKenzie extension he is doing??) stood out

“Back pain: Rhys Owen, 21, was hired as a Christmas temp by Amazon but claimed the chronic pain started almost immediately”

“…the chronic pain started almost immediately.”

Now, in order not to cause alarm, the journalist sought some advice from an expert… Mr Owen’s solicitor:

His solicitor Andrew Lilley, of JMW Solicitors based in Manchester, said the working conditions were ‘a great cause for concern’ and that the formerly fit 21-year-old had an injury usually seen in ‘someone approaching middle age’.

‘The conditions that our client has described to us are a great cause for concern’, he said. 

‘As well as affecting an individual’s immediate well-being, if such conditions are proven to exist at Amazon’s fulfilment centres, they could lead to longer term physical problems and greater injuries.

There’s a lot that’s been “lost in translation” here.  But sadly, who hasn’t heard a young worker who’s had a bit of back pain say something like “They say I’ve got the back of a 50 year old now and if I keep going in the same job with those conditions I’ll end up in a wheelchair”?

Feel free to share your examples of “lost in translation” in the comments below.

– Tim Cocks


  1. davenolan22

    Tim, the Daily Mail is slightly to the right of the tea party movement in the US. I’m surprised they had room to publish this as it’s normally full of how dreadful the NHS is and how we’re about to be swamped with immigrants stealing our jobs.

  2. davidboltononoi

    Hence our job is to LISTEN to the patient as that which they share with us is their “Truth and Reality”. Geoff Maitland said it so beautifully, “I think you might have heard what you thought I said, but I wonder if you really understood what I actually meant”……… The patient with the brown leather trousers comes to mind ……

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