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  • Writer's picturePiotr Solowiej

Exercise caution...on the internet

Naturally clients come to physical therapy with questions about their symptoms. What they should be doing, what they shouldn't be doing. Most of the time questions stem from information they read on the internet. This information colors how they view their body, movement, and symptoms. Which is fine, it's a perfectly good thing to research about a problem you are experiencing. People should be invested in their health outcomes. I encourage clients to perform their own investigations.

However, one of the best things about the internet is also the worst. Nearly everyone has access to it and can post whatever they want. It is difficult to know or understand the motivation behind someone's post online. Some information is clearly bogus, but even well meaning sources can be incorrect. Often it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between something legitimately helpful versus something useless or even potentially harmful. I had a conversation with a client the other day that went something along the lines of, "you can almost convince yourself of anything on Google." I found that statement a particularly astute insight.

Let me explain. Take back pain and bending over, is it good or is it bad? If we go to Google, we can find millions of hits for either camp based on how you search.

So is it bad?

Or is it good for you?

As someone that professionally sees back pain more than anything, I can confidently say..... it depends.

It's not a sexy answer, but it's the truth. Sure some people fit into the simple examples given above (pictures), but honestly I'm not a fan of the generalizations in these pictures because they don't explain everything and I often see contradictory examples. Believing that bending forward is dangerous and will always be dangerous can limit your recovery potential because I have worked with plenty of people that improve a long history of back pain after working on improving their forward bend. I've also seen people with diagnosed stenosis that improve with movements other than bending forward. The real world is very gray. While we have some rules of thumb, those rules are often just an anchor point that allow us to perform an assessment. Allow some room for flexibility in your assumptions, because whether it's old or new information, it may be holding you back.

If you have a preconceived notion of what an answer or an idea should be, chances are you will stop your investigation the moment you come across data that fit your views. This is called confirmation bias, and I am as guilty as the next person of succumbing to its force.

The first step in falling victim to it less, is just to know it exists.

There is a lot of conflicting health and wellness information on the internet, but the same is true for almost any topic. There is always the possibility you are reading something self serving, misunderstood, mis-applied, or just plain wrong. No matter how much sense it makes or how long you have been hearing it for. The conversation I had earlier in the week caused me to reflect on my own research practices, and had me wondering how much better my critical thinking skill would be if I practiced researching an opinion and also it's opposite. How many people can honestly say they try to disprove their initial assumption about a topic, and investigate what people with opposing opinions may have to say? And not only that, but also don't automatically dismiss the stuff that doesn't fit their views. If you don't know already let me tell you this can be an uncomfortable process and mental space to be in, but ultimately one that fosters better understanding.

My hope is that after reading this, on some future Google search there is a voice somewhere inside your head that whispers, "what if I'm wrong?"

Remember only a Sith deals in absolutes.

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