Physical therapy humor

physical therapy jokes, physical therapy humor, humor for physical therapy

Physical therapy humor can be among the many tools that PTs use to improve the health and wellbeing of their clients. PTs utilize approaches like therapeutic exercise, manual therapy and lifestyle modification to name a few. Outside of the techniques therapists typically use, it turns out that a well-placed physical therapy joke and a bit of physical therapy humor may be able to improve therapist-client rapport, enhance client wellbeing and combat therapist burnout when used in the right way. In this post you will learn about some of the positive effects of physical therapy humor and tips for implementing it successfully.

Battling burnout

Burnout among healthcare providers is a longstanding issue. PTs experience burnout at a high rate and while structural changes are the best bet for battling burnout, it turns out humor may play a role as well. The use of positive types of humor that bring people together through physical therapy jokes and other funny things (affiliative humor) and encourage self-development (self-enhancing humor) were found to be positively related to compassion satisfaction (the opposite of compassion fatigue) amongst healthcare workers according to a study published in the Journal of Psychotraumatology by Irina-Georgeta Timofeiov-Tudose and Cornelia Măirean in 2023. When coworkers can laugh and joke lightly with one another, burnout lessens.

Benefitting client care

Psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety can pose significant barriers to motivation and participation in physical activity such as that often recommended by physical therapists. 

A review of physical activity among people diagnosed with depression by Vancampfort et al. 2015, found that “low self-esteem and higher levels of depressive symptoms were associated with lower physical activity.” 

Similarly, when Mason et al. 2019 examined facilitators and barriers to participation in exercise/physical activity amongst persons with Anxiety-related Disorders (ARDs), they found that people with ARDs frequently experience exercise anxiety, negative reactions to the physical sensations associated with exercise and symptoms of anxiety when they think about and/or engage in exercise and that “researchers and clinicians should consider targeting exercise anxiety, perhaps through the use of cognitive behavioral interventions, to aid people with ARDs to achieve long-term adherence and exercise-related benefits.”

Humor, it turns out, is one tool that can have positive psychological and mental benefits for your clients. A study by Lebowitz  et al. in 2010, published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary and Acute Care found that a client’s “[s]ense of humor was associated with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and an enhanced quality of life.”

Similarly, Freda DeKeyser Ganz RN., PhD., and Jeremy M. Jacobs MD., (2014), found that elderly subjects who attended a humor therapy workshop, “had significantly lower follow-up levels of anxiety and depression and improved general well-being” compared to control subjects who did not attend the workshop. 

With the positive effects of humor on mental health and wellbeing gaining steam, one may be wondering if the use of humor may have effects on physical well-being? 

One group of pain science researchers had the same question and in 2021 published their findings in the Journal of Pain Research. Kugler et al., studied the effect of humor training on clients with chronic pain. In this study humor training consisted of four modules that included aims such as “encouraging the expression of cheerfulness and joy,” “imparting knowledge about the positive effects of humor;” “enhancing the motivation to use humor as a coping strategy,” “fostering the ability to see and evaluate situations creatively;” “look[ing] at pain in new and humorous ways” and “overcoming hindering emotions.” 

This study is one of the first of its kind and while their results weren’t quite statistically significant, they saw a trend for a greater reduction in current pain intensity and of quality of life impairment by pain and a trend for greater increase in self-enhancing humor. These results suggest that when used mindfully, humor may help reduce chronic pain symptoms.

Using physical therapy humor the right way

If you’ve ever told a physical therapy joke that landed badly, you probably learned the importance of reading the room. The effective use of humor amongst healthcare professionals, it turns out, can be beneficial to both clients and therapists, but poorly-placed or poorly-thought-out physical therapy humor can have the opposite effect. 

In 2020, a group of researchers in Portugal, Cristina Vaz de Almeida and Cecília Nunes, studied the perception amongst doctors and nurses on the importance of humor in the healthcare relationship.

Their results found that humor is valid in the therapeutic relationship but that for it to be effective it must follow certain guidelines of which providers should consider before inserting physical therapy humor into their client/family/caregiver interactions:
  • Humor should be used in moderation: Physical therapy humor can be a great way to break the tension and bring some levity to an interaction, but you do not want your clients or their family thinking you do not take their care seriously or that you are making light of their pain or illness.

  • It works best when you already know the client: First impressions are important to set up a trusting relationship with your clients. Take some time to get to know your client and allow them to see your professional expertise prior to using too much physical therapy humor.

  • Assessing the client’s socio-cultural conditions is imperative: Humor, like most things, is individualized, and what one person finds funny another finds offensive. Take the time to evaluate and understand the socio-cultural values and beliefs of your clients and their families before using humor. It can be best to allow clients to insert humor on their end first and then you can follow suit in a similar fashion, allowing them to lead the way. In other scenarios you will recognize physical therapy humor has no place in your interaction.


By taking these three tips into consideration, you will be more successful in using physical therapy humor to enhance the therapeutic relationship. 

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Physical therapy jokes

For those looking for a laugh and a little help, here are some physical therapy jokes to inject a little humor into your treatments:

  • “What did the pinched nerve say to the client? `Before PT, I was a pain in the neck.’” - Results Physiotherapy

  • “I had a client who was a dairy farmer ... so I gave him a calf stretch.” - Doctors of Running

  • “What is the difference between Occupational and Physical Therapy? PT will help you walk while OT will make sure you can do it with pants on” - HumorNama

  • “Are you a transfer belt? Cause you make me feel safe.” - HumorNama

  • What kind of PT exercise do lazy people do? Diddly squats - HumorNama

  • What did the PT say when they were interrupted? “Psoas as I was saying!” - HumorNama

  • As I was “patelling” you …

  • A professional baseball player comes into the clinic with a limp. “What’s wrong?” asks the PT. “I took too many walks.” - AlterG

  • A gingerbread man walks into the clinic and complains that his knee hurts. The PT says, “Have you tried icing it?” - AlterG

There is no arguing with the fact that injuries, illness and health are serious business, but looking on the positive side may be just what the doctor ordered. A well-placed physical therapy joke and the ability to laugh at ourselves and with our clients can be as important as the dedicated care we provide. With these tips in mind, you are better prepared to add a little levity to your practice.

List of cited articles

de Almeida, C. and Nunes, C. (2020) Humor Is Important in Healthcare Relationship? - The Perceptions of Doctors and Nurses. Open Access Library Journal, 7, 1-16. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1106372.

Ganz, F. & Jacobs, J. (2014). The effect of humor on elder mental and physical health. Geriatric Nursing, 35(3), 205-211. doi:

Kugler L, Kuhbandner C, Gerum S, Hierl C, Münster T, Offereins B, Lutterbach LS. Evaluation of a Humor Training for clients with Chronic Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Pain Res. 2021;14:3121-3133:

Lebowitz, K., Suh, S., Diaz, P., & Emery, C. (2011). Effects of humor and laughter on psychological functioning, quality of life, health status, and pulmonary functioning among clients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A preliminary investigation. Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care, 40(4), 310-319. doi:

Mason JE, Faller YN, LeBouthillier DM, Asmundson GJG (2019) Exercise anxiety: a qualitative analysis of the barriers, facilitators, and psychological processes underlying exercise participation for people with anxiety-related disorders. Ment Health Phys Act 16:128 –139.:

Timofeiov-Tudose IG, Măirean C. Workplace humour, compassion, and professional quality of life among medical staff. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2023;14(1):2158533. doi: 10.1080/20008066.2022.2158533. PMID: 37052083; PMCID: PMC9793908.

Vancampfort D, Stubbs B, Sienaert P, Wyckaert S, De Hert M, Rosenbaum S, Probst M (2015) What are the factors that influence physical activity participation in individuals with depression? A review of physical activity correlates from 59 studies. Psychiatr Danub 27(3):210–224


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