From our patient letter  "Pain Free News"

Last updated on January 27, 2021

Medical language

I like to help my patients understand their problems. But there is a drawback. If I explain using the correct medical terminology I have to use a language that they do not understand.

Medical language is a hybrid borrowing heavily from latin and also Greek. Is it intended to be confusing? Who knows, but like any foreign language you cannot understand it unless you have learnt it.

The only people who speak “Medical” are doctors or those in medically related professions. This would be fine if doctors only treated other doctors, they would understand each other perfectly. But no one teaches the rest of us “Medical” and we are the patients.

This is a huge barrier to effective communication. Ironic considering that in Latin the word Doctor also means teacher. Understanding your own problem can be an essential step towards towards recovery. So comprehensible language can also mean better and faster healing

Osteopathic Translation

Us Osteopaths also learned Medical but we try not to speak it too much. I like to provide a plain English translation service for my patients. For example:

You have Spondylolithesis at L5/S1 —-> A bone at the base of your spine has been displaced forwards


You have spondylosis affecting the cervical spine —–> Your neck is stiff due to wear and tear


Your L5 disc is herniated causing and causing nerve root impingement —-> A disc is bulging out in your lower back and trapping a nerve

Medical jargon turned into simple terms that anyone can understand.

Problem solved? Or maybe not…!

But my doctor says I have a (insert long Latin word)

The drawback with a simple explanation is really just that. It is simple. It seems trivial and not significant enough to merit the pain and disability arising. So many patients actually prefer a Latin label even if they do not know what it means. Spondylosis sounds like it should be painful whereas wear and tear does not.


Realistically medicine is not going to change its language overnight. However I hope that there will be a slow migration to more comprehensible communication. Many of the latinate terms currently used can easily be replaced by easier to understand English names. Until that happens I will continue with my translation service.

Any thoughts? I would love to hear your comments.

*”keep it simple, doctor”

Philip Hambly