What is Kinesiophobia?
Kinesiophobia is from the greek terms kínēsis (movement) and phobia (fear), or “fear of movement.” Medically, it’s described as, “an excessive, irrational, and debilitating fear of physical movement and activity resulting from a feeling of vulnerability due to painful injury or reinjury.” 1
Fear of movement may not seem like that serious of an issue, but it can dramatically slow recovery time from injuries and can actually lead to chronic pain and permanent disability if not addressed.
Kinesiophobia can cause long-term problems because it creates a feedback loop in your body: you first feel pain, and that makes it painful to move. You then limit your body’s movement to avoid pain, but restricting movement creates poor circulation to the injured area and atrophied muscles from lack of use.
Since problems like back pain are often caused by weak or imbalanced core muscles, immobility causes these muscles to become even weaker and often leads to postural or gait changes that create further problems.
Fear of movement creates a negative cycle of further pain, further fear, and chronic pain.
Movement is one of the key components to healing from an injury, as it allows blood to flow to the injured tissues which carries away waste products and inflammatory chemicals.
Any kind of movement therapy can be beneficial for easing kinesiophobia. One recent study found that Pilates was effective at reducing fear of movement in back pain patients. Another study by Cai et al2 found that cognitive behavioral therapy was helpful in treating kinesiophobia.
Because the psychology of pain can be such a powerful force, it’s important for healthcare providers to be aware of the problem of kinesiophobia in chronic pain patients.
- Kori S, Miller R, Todd D. Kineisiophobia: a new view of chronic pain behavior. Pain Management 1990;3(1):35–43.
- Cai L, Gao H, Xu H, Wang Y, Lyu P, Liu Y. Does a Program Based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Affect Kinesiophobia in Patients Following Total Knee Arthroplasty? A Randomized, Controlled Trial With a 6-Month Follow-Up. Journal of Arthroplasty 2018 Mar;33(3):704-710. doi: 10.1016/j.arth.2017.10.035.