Kinesiophobia

In the spirit of Halloween and #SpookySzn, there is a boogie man we need to expose, because it follows us everywhere we go…

This boogie man may not always be felt, but can attack when we least expect it. The only thing that can defeat this monster is confronting it head on and calling it out, not running and hiding from it.


Do you know what it is?

FEAR.

Fear is not a real, tangible monster, yet it can paralyze and debilitate us all. It is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events.

And one of the biggest fears we face in the world of healthcare is the fear of movement, which can debilitate our future more than we know. We are about to confront it head-on, because most of us will experience it in our lifetime and need to have the skills to recognize and overcome it!

What is Kinesiophobia?

If you break the word down, we know it entails some type of “fear” (phobia)…but what is kinesio? It simply refers to movement! The fear of movement can be brought on by a painful experience, perceived danger, or even the words of somebody we trust.

What causes Kinesiophobia?

A variety of factors could cause fear of movement. Maybe you’ve recently strained a muscle from lifting something heavy your body was not used to lifting…or maybe something not heavy like a pencil (it happens!). Or maybe somebody close to you was injured, which sparked fear in your mind that it could happen to you.

Another source of fear could be your environment. A friend, family member, or healthcare provider says you shouldn’t lift weights, should be careful performing activities you enjoy, or makes a comment about the body being “fragile” and that we need to “protect it.” The opinions and perceptions of others can be powerful if we aren’t educated about our own body!

Whatever the root cause of the fear, it NEEDS to be recognized and addressed before it leads to more serious (or even deadly) problems.

Side-effects of Kinesiophobia

If left unaddressed, kinesiophobia can lead to more serious conditions. If we are afraid to move, it ultimately leads us to a sedentary life, and we’ve spoken previously in blogs about the effects of a sedentary life. However, with fear, we bring in a psychological component which can have long lasting effects on our mental and emotional state, as well as our physical body.

Holding onto this fear may seem like the safe option for now, but over time the side-effects can include things like: 

  • Chronic pain (the body is unable to process the pain appropriately over time. Getting it moving and addressing the fear with a trained physical therapist can help!).
  • Depression (not being able to be you and do what you love).
  • Anxiety (uncertainty of what the future holds for you living with this new found fear).
  • Hypersensitivity to other stimuli (your brain perceives danger and overreacts to other inputs to the body).
  • Isolation (staying inside and avoiding activity because you don’t want to get injured).
  • Weight gain and metabolic disorders (from not moving your body, can lead to depression and side-effects in other body systems).
  • Decreased performance at work, in sports, and other life areas (if you’re fearful of your own body, it will impact all of the functions it performs for you!)
  • Increasing fear response to other areas of life (if we are living in fear, it may creep into other areas of life: parenting, relationships, careers, etc.)
  • …and the list could go on!
Here we see a client conquering Kinesiophobia by moving her body and learning that movement is her medicine.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

I never thought the wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt would apply to physical therapy, but here we are.

During his first inauguration he addresses fear being the only thing we actually need to fear! And there is so much truth in this for all humans, just apply it to kinesiophobia and it still makes sense.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory…” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We NEED to be free of fear to move forward and live a life of victory! What does a victorious life look like? Freedom in movement? Freedom to be able to do the things we enjoy? 

How to find freedom in movement again

Life is always going to have uncertainty, and there will be times of paralyzing fear and even pain. We need to first understand those concepts. But following the concepts of unavoidable fear and pain, it is up to US to seek out ways to decrease that fear so we can live a life of freedom. 


Physical therapy is incredible for restoring normal movement and function. Physical therapists are here to educate, progress movement/exercise, and rule out any serious structural or medical problems requiring more involved care. 

Sometimes it takes a whole team approach! Bringing in both physical and mental healing has been hugely beneficial for those dealing with kinesiophobia and chronic pain. They don’t have to be lifelong sentences! 

What does returning to normal movement entail?

Once you find a qualified and trained physical therapist on the topic of chronic pain and kinesiophobia, you will go in for an evaluation to rule out any serious medical conditions. Both of those pieces are crucial.

You will go through a movement and strength assessment and discuss the most provocative and fearful movements for you. After the evaluation and anything serious has been ruled out, you may have some simple things to practice at home to improve your symptoms. On subsequent visits with your physical therapist, you may practice:

  • Deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques
  • Gentle hands on treatments if medically necessary to calm the body and nervous system
  • Return to function exercises to assess and improve your ability level
  • Appropriate mobility, stability, and strength exercises to improve your body’s response to pain
  • Progressive exercises to make you feel like a champion again!

Conquering kinesiophobia and chronic pain doesn’t have to be scary itself! In fact, the side-effects of not moving should be scarier than getting to the root of the issue. Address the fear now with a trained physical therapist in a safe environment and get back to living your best life! 

Questions? Be sure to comment below, schedule a visit with a trained physical therapist, and come and see us today! Don’t let fear and pain rule your life, we’ve got your back.

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