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Fear of Movement: How Therapy Can Help

Fear of pain can be a factor when avoiding activities or everyday movements. This is known as kinesiophobia and it is more common than you think. Roughly 50-70% of adults experience fear with movement after an injury, accident, or another form of trauma. Fortunately, physical therapy can help with graded exposure, improving confidence and providing reassurance with movement.


Fear is a natural response to a threat or danger. This response will cause increased heart rate, elevated breathing, increased awareness of your surroundings, and you may become more easily frightened. What we perceive as a threat or danger is different with everyone as it is based on our personal experiences.

Here is an example: imagine you are walking down the street and see a large dog off his leash. People who own a dog may not be alarmed. But for someone who has been attacked by a dog in the past, this may trigger a fear response.


In this situation, seeing a dog off his leash can trigger a fear response. But what if just walking down the street triggers a fear response because you might see a dog? The emotion of thinking something bad might happen is called anxiety and it is closely tied to fear. Activities that we have done our entire lives can suddenly cause anxiety because of a negative or painful experience.


An example of this with movement occurs in people who have experienced a low back pain episode. Most low back pain episodes are benign, meaning as long as more serious pathology can be ruled out (which is the case 90% of the time), low back pain will resolve without any long-term effects. The problem is that during a low back pain episode, the pain can be so debilitating that it is hard not to think something worse is occurring. Once recovered, most people can reflect on what caused the pain (bending, twisting, lifting, rolling) and you may become conditioned to avoid the aggravating movement(s). As a result of the experience, you may become fearful and anxious when attempting to perform the movement(s) again.

When kinesiophobia occurs, you either avoid the movement(s) or start moving differently. If you avoid these movements, you may start to become more sedentary, which can lead to negative health conditions. If you start moving differently, you add new stresses to tissues and body parts that may not be used to performing a movement. This could result in new pain all stemming from fear of movement.


A licensed Physical Therapist can examine how you move, determine what barriers you may have with movement, and prescribe activities or exercises to help overcome or adapt to the fear you have with movement. Movements we often see people having problems with include:












Do not waste another day living with kinesiophobia. Let our trained experts help conquer your fear and improve your quality of life. 

For over 4 decades, we've earned the trust of thousands of patients and their families. Your journey to wellness begins here with our compassionate, skilled physical therapy team.

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