Inflatable tube person terrified and scared of rigid, flexible, spontaneous, movement

A New Word: Kinesiophobia

Last updated: March 2021

I love words. Not only do I believe that they’re one of the most powerful forces in the universe, I’ve been blessed enough to make my living writing for more than 20 years. Once in awhile, I run across a new word that really resonates with me and I learned such a new term the other day: kinesiophobia.

What is kinesiophobia?

We all probably know what a phobia is: the fear of something. The “kinesio” part of the word comes from the Greek language and relates to the movement of the human body. Kinesiophobia, therefore, is the fear of movement.

What does kinesiophobia look like?

This is most commonly seen when people either avoid doing something altogether (such as stop taking the stairs in favor of the elevator) or modify either how they’re doing something or the duration that they do it. I have certainly been guilty of this and I know other RA sufferers have as well. Fellow contributor Tamara Haag wrote about several personal examples of this in her recent excellent article, “Tentative me.” More times than not, this behavior is insidious and sneaks into our daily lives without our even realizing it.

The added fear of rheumatoid arthritis pain

This is a uniquely human characteristic because humans are the only creatures capable of actually worrying about the consequences of doing something. (As opposed, for example, to lab rats that learn that pushing a certain lever actually results in a nasty electric shock.) Consider what would happen to a rabbit who hesitates to run from a coyote because it worried that its leg might hurt.

True, there is a lot of real pain in rheumatoid arthritis, but the fear of pain is also extremely damaging. As you avoid activity, your physical wellness declines. You can also mentally decline through continued worry which can lead to depression.

Physical movement can have a positive impact on RA

The fact of the matter is, physical movement is one of the best things you can do for rheumatoid arthritis. It can actually relieve pain as well as alleviate stress, lead to weight loss, and improve both cardiac and respiratory health.

How do we manage this fear of movement and pain?

The goal here, then, is common sense. Part of that foundation is the realization and acceptance of the fact that there is going to be some pain with RA. Remember that even healthy athletes get sore after a vigorous workout. Common sense clearly dictates that if an activity causes extreme pain or results in a condition becoming severely worse, then you should curtail that activity.

However, the same common sense follows that we shouldn’t avoid something just because we think it might hurt. Common sense will also tell us not to avoid activity, but to make wise choices. For example, many of us with knee and hip issues should opt out of high-impact marathons and Zumba classes in favor of lower-impact walks and water aerobics.

It's challenging, but we can overcome our fears

I think President Franklin Roosevelt said it best in his inaugural speech, “...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

With kinesiophobia, the phrase, “paralyzes needed efforts” rings especially true. We must keep our fear of what might happen from interfering with what must happen if we are going to be as healthy as we can. Instead of saying we can’t do something because it might hurt, we need to be stating that we will do something until we find out it is bad for us.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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