Fear of pain can hinder movement and recovery

Everyone experiences acute or short term pain during their life. 80% of the U.S. population experiences low- to mid-back pain while others experience persistent pain without relief.

Why do some patients with acute pain overcome their pain while other patients develop long-term, debilitating pain?

The answer lies in how the pain is perceived by the patient. Pain creates a fear and perception that changes the patient’s movements, which in turn increases their pain intensity. Fear that is associated with pain is the driver that creates a feeling that the pain will last a prolonged period of time.

The degree of the injury does not always equal the degree of pain. Factors such as depression and anxiety can make pain worse. The physical therapist can help educate the patient through education and knowledge of the cause of the pain, as well as showing the patient how to move without pain, all while ruling out restrictive movements.

Patients who have persistent pain fear performing any movement that will aggravate symptoms. Avoiding movement in our lives in order to avoid pain starts a cycle where the patient avoids desired activities until they are deconditioned and eventually disabled due to pain.

An example would be the fear of an unknown diagnosis such as
degenerative disc disease which can create a mindset that the patient will never be able to improve from this diagnosis. This belief in the diagnosis may be more debilitating then the actual medical problem, even though other individuals might have positive findings on x-rays or MRI’s for degenerative or herniated disc or bone spurs, yet don’t incur any chronic pain.

A physical therapist can improve the patient’s mobility, strength and endurance through proper movement, while identifying the symptoms and cause of the pain in order to assist in overcoming chronic pain. The physical therapist can educate the patient about the power of exercise at a time in their life when they fear it the most.

Once the pain and the fear associated with it has been understood and alleviated, recovery can take place.

Luke Gentry, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Orthopaedic Certified Specialist, is the Clinic Director for Avid Physical Therapy in Cathedral City. He can be contacted at (760) 202.0368 and at [email protected]

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