Stuck in a Fear Avoidance Trap? How to Break Free

When you suffer an injury or deal with chronic pain, it’s easy to wish that pain weren’t part of your life. There’s no doubt about it: pain is unpleasant, but it’s also a necessary component of keeping us safe from harm. Even if you could remove your ability to feel pain, you really wouldn’t want to – there’s a rare genetic disorder called CIP for short (chronic insensitivity to pain), in which afflicted individuals can’t feel pain…and are at risk for serious to life-threatening injuries. Pain exists to tell us that something is wrong; however, a skewed adaptation of that information and your activities can create a cycle called “fear avoidance.” We tell you what fear avoidance is, and how to help break the cycle if you’re already in it…

Example 1: Bill suffers a serious knee injury that requires surgery and follow-up physical therapy. Yet Bill is worried the exercises will hurt his knee, so he’d rather avoid them. Bill also goes out of his way to stay less mobile, and reduces any risk of causing pain to his knee. By not following through with his own recovery, Bill delays his recovery and potentially causes other problems by not returning to full mobility and strengthening his knee and other supportive tissue.

Example 2: Margaret is a senior with some balance and movement difficulty, as well as some persistent back pain. Her fear of falling and further pain has led her to limit mobility; although she could walk unaided she prefers to use the aid of a walker. Margaret hasn’t suffered a fall, but her fear of falling and of experiencing further back pain has limited her own behavior.

In both instances, the individual has some physical problem that s/he is concerned will worsen with a particular activity. Fear avoidance is the anticipatory expectation of pain that results in trying to avoid any situation that could cause it – no matter how beneficial that activity may be. People experiencing fear avoidance may ignore instructions from physical therapists, doctors, care-givers, etc. and make decisions based on their own instinctive desire to prevent further pain and discomfort; however, in most cases the reality is that the person would be better served by regaining strength, mobility, balance, and control – not to mention an improved quality of life!

For those caught in a fear avoidance cycle, all is not lost! A physical therapist is an ideal resource when trying to get moving and working through limitations because you’re afraid of more pain and discomfort. Physical therapists are specially-trained in the musculoskeletal system and in designing custom plans for clients with a wide variety of issues and needs. A PT can assess you and address your concerns about discomfort in your daily life, and provide education, guidance, and specific exercises tailored to your recovery. S/he will also monitor your progress and demonstrate how you’re improving throughout treatment. Physical therapists are also experienced in treating clients who are unsure, anxious, hurting, and have a long road to recovery. If you’re honest with your PT, s/he can also alter or adjust your treatment plan to work through any difficulty you may be having. While you may feel stuck, your physical therapist won’t be; s/he will be able to plot the course for getting you out of the fear avoidance trap.

Don’t resign yourself to suffering: your quality of life matters! If you’re dealing with fear avoidance and don’t know where to start, let Body One Physical Therapy be your road map to wellness. We’re locally-owned with four locations serving Central Indiana: North Indianapolis, South Indianapolis, Fishers, and Zionsville. Our team of physical therapists is ready to get you moving again, and help take the worry out of your recovery. Call us today and take the first step to feeling better! 

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