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A New Word: Kinesiophobia

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 a while I run across a new word that really resonates with me and I learned such a new term the other day: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  • karenkaye
    4 years ago

    Hi Carla, Yes, one of the best things I’ve done is added an exercise program into my life over the past 4 years. I believe that movement is a positive aspect of my health program.
    At the same time I am afraid of a fatigue/pain flare that could last for weeks or months. Post-exertional exercise intolerance is a real issue with CFS/ME diagnosis. Because of this I started my exercise program by walking two laps of the pool. It took me 3 years to work up to swimming g 16 laps. And I am in fear everytime I exercise…I then let go and enjoy the exercise. BUT I never know when I am going to be hit with that flare that can keep me in bed for months.
    Then this last year I got RA and I had to cut back my exercise to almost nothing again. But I go to the pool 3 times a week and do whatever I can. Then I use the hot tub also.
    So that is why I fear movement…it is based on real experiences over the past 25 years. So I face that fear and do some type of movement anyway. But I have no idea why I haven’t been hit with a devasting flare. There is no rhyme or reason. We just have to step slowly forward and that could mean different things to different people. Thanks for listening but this strikes close to home.

  • Carla Kienast author
    4 years ago

    Karen Kaye: Thank you so much for your comment. Yours is an excellent example of learning from pain and, at the same time, being brave enough to overcome the fear of pain to exercise as much as you can. There is a real difference between just being afraid something will hurt and learning from painful experience. You seem to have struck a real balance.

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