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The power of your words

By Hayley Leake Metaphor and language, Education for all 14 Jun 2016

“Bamboo spine”

A few years ago my housemate started to experience back pain. It came about after a stomach infection in Thailand, and continued to trouble her for 2 years. At the time she was fit and healthy with no history of trauma. After being assessed by a whole host of medical and health professionals she was given the suggested diagnosis of ‘ankylosing spondylitis’. When curiosity won and she Googled this she was presented with terms like ‘bamboo spine’ and images of ossified vertebrae. Much later this was found to be incorrect, but at the time it was pretty threatening stuff!

Ensuing side effects

Her initial pain management journey led her down a path of analgesics and corticosteroids with their ensuing side effects: fatigue, fogginess, bloating. By chance, we started studying pain science at Uni. We were exposed to new understandings about pain – hurt doesn’t equal harm, pain is contextual, the brain is boss. A hopeful idea began to grow – might it be possible that her flare-ups and pain could be treated, not just managed? She realised she needed to change her negative perception of her back, and to do that she firstly needed to change her language.

“Help me love my back again”

At the time most of her conversations were centred on pain. Concerned friends and family would ask – “How are you? How is your back pain?” in the same breath. With the aim to change this she decided instead her response would be a quick “all good!” and sometimes even a little white lie – “It’s 100% better, I feel fine!” She would quickly veer the conversation away from the topic. Slowly people stopped asking. Alongside this, she asked us (her housemates) to help her love her back again with some positive language. She would wake up to “Morning, what a strong back!” and would leave the house with “Have a great day, you’re back is looking fab!”

An emergent process

Her recovery was an emergent process attributed to many factors: graded exposure to movement (namely Pilates), influence of Ayurveda (meditation, diet, sensory stimulation through massage), reconceptualising pain (Explain Pain taught through Uni) and surely a whole host of other things. Changing her language, and that of people around her, wasn’t the sole contributor to her recovery – but perhaps it was a piece of the puzzle. Could changing language aid in altering thoughts and beliefs, and ultimately help to reconceptualise pain?


-Hayley Leake




We’re hitting the road and taking our NOI courses right across this great southern land:

Noosa 17 – 19 June Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery (Both courses SOLD OUT)

Wagga Wagga 16-17 July Explain Pain

Perth 15 – 17 October Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery


EP3 events have sold out three years running in Australia, and we are super excited to be bringing this unique format to the United States in late 2016 with Lorimer Moseley, Mark Jensen, David Butler, and few NOI surprises.

EP3 EAST Philadelphia, December 2, 3, 4 2016

EP3 WEST Seattle, December 9, 10, 11 2016

To register your interest, contact NOI USA:

p (610) 664-4465



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