The Fear Factor: The Anticipation of Pain in Movement

As we move through life, we rarely think of the hundreds of coordinated movements that our body makes each day, let alone how they feel. When a person is in pain however, every movement can bring on a number of feelings, both emotional and physical. When pain persists over a long period, the mere thought of moving can be paralyzing with fear.

The fear reaction immediately sets off a chain reaction of bracing and tension throughout your entire body. The pace of your breath becomes shallow and high in the chest. Your pulse quickens as your heart pounds. Now try to move freely throughout your day. Impossible!

Managing this fear is just as important as rehabilitating the injury. However, unfortunately, this “symptom” often goes unrecognized or is dismissed. ‎Trying to fix the body without addressing the mind’s role can result in a much longer recovery. This fear response is called Anticipatory Pain, and it is brought on when our brain’s memory of pain triggers a very real physiological pain each time we move.

From a movement perspective, there are a number of ways to manage this fear. Here are just a few:

1) Breathe before Moving – inhale for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale slowly for 8 counts. Repeat this 10 times during times of fear when moving. Once you feel more relaxed, start to move on your exhale.

2) Release then Move – Before you move, take your time to feel relaxed and free of tension, then use the idea of floating a limb to lift it, or loosely swinging in the breeze to move it forward and back.

3) Ask for a Helping Hand – Have someone assist you in movement. While you ‎focus on relaxing areas of tension, have that person support the moving part, like while lifting a leg or an arm. After a few repetitions of relaxed movement, start to assist your partner so each of you is doing 50% of the work, then try doing 80% of the effort with just 20% of support. Finally, once you feel confident in the movement, try the movement on your own with your support person on standby.

4) Support Yourself – Use supportive props to cushion areas that tend to hold tension, like in the low back when lying flat and moving your limbs. ‎This support could be a towel or even your hand. As you move, use that prop as support and as a tactile reminder to avoid tensing that area during the movement.

Finally, when you are ready to start an exercise program, look for one that teaches you exercise with a purpose. Programs with a Functional Movement component can be very helpful by showing you how to recreate movements that you will use in your everyday life, while also reprogramming your brain to move confidently without triggering a pain response.

A highly-trained Pilates and Therapeutic Exercise specialist can help develop a functional program that suits your needs, and gets you back to moving with confidence.

Written by

Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute

Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

© 2015. All rights reserved. 


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.