Accentuate The Positive


Just over a year ago, I fell from a height and managed to fracture the proximal head of my right humerus in two places. In other words, I badly broke my shoulder. After spending four weeks immobilised in a sling, and subsequently not being able to drive or work, not to mention having to sleep upright, it soon became apparent that I had now developed adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).


Perhaps you can imagine how I was beginning to feel. A self-employed therapist, living many miles away from the nearest town and my clinic, I felt broken and disheartened. The negative attitude and words of the hospital consultant did little to encourage me. But then, a very good friend said something that made a huge difference to my mindset: “The body ALWAYS wants to heal”.



I have thought of that simple but powerful expression many times this past year, not only as a therapist, but also as a patient (client). In my clinic, I often observe the different outcomes between those clients with a positive mindset towards their recovery, and those who are, shall we say, less positive. Perhaps we may feel that is something that cannot be changed; that it is just a personality trait of the client. But then I consider how, as a therapist, I can have an affect here: I can make a positive intervention. After all, isn’t that what we do as therapists?

I am now more aware of the effects my words, language and tone of voice can have when assessing and treating those who walk through my door. I am also conscious of the unsaid words and messages that we may convey. For example, when assessing strength or ROM (range of movement), I was always taught to compare the affected (injured) joint with the unaffected. But does this sometimes convey a negative message to our client? In effect, are we saying: “Look at what you can’t do with your shoulder/knee/or ankle”. Why not, instead, compare the affected joint with previous measurements? This way, the client can focus on the positive progress made.

To highlight their progress, I often use visual markers that they can see and easily relate to, rather than measurements taken with a goniometer (measuring device). For example, if they have reduced ROM in the shoulder, I make a small pencil mark on the wall to show them how much forward flexion they have achieved each time they visit. I know, from personal experience, the positive effect this has; as you see those pencil marks slowly but surely progressing upwards!


Words and expressions I try to avoid:








Words and expressions I prefer to use:





Well done!


Now, I know the important balance of being realistic as well as positive. But I also understand the dangers of being overly cautious or negative. So, fair enough, our client may not be fully recovered by the weekend to play in that match or run that race. But, it is still so important to focus positively on their progress and achievable goals along the way to recovery. To give them genuine commendation for how far they have come, and above all, to impart realistic hope.


As Bing Crosby sang “You have to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, eliminate the negative”

Ed Clark BSc (Hons) is a Sports Rehabilitation Therapist practising in Penrith, Cumbria. He is a graduate member and regional representative of the Sports Therapist Association.

Photo credits:


Grow ~ Andrew Seaman

Massage ~ Toa Heftiba

Yoga on the beach ~ Marion Michele

Hand ~ Natalie Collins