Fear of pain

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When people have pain in their bodies for a while, they can develop fear of the pain itself. It is a very normal fear – most people are afraid of experiencing pain. However, fear of pain becomes a problem when it makes you avoid activities that you enjoy or need to do.

We can quickly begin to enjoy life less, and pain can also worsen when muscles become deconditioned because we are not using our bodies properly.

You might be experiencing fear of pain if you have thoughts such as, “I don’t want to move because I am worried it will hurt”, or “I don’t want to move my painful area because I am worried I will injure myself.” If you begin to avoid situations that you think will cause pain, or protect your painful area by avoiding having it bumped, touched or moved, this could also be a sign that you have developed a fear of pain.

Managing fear of pain

First, it is important for you and your health care team to discuss the cause of your pain. In most cases of chronic pain, the pain is not a sign of ongoing damage or injury. Often, whatever started your pain has long healed and what you are left with is a pain signal that keeps occurring even when there is no damage. It is like a fire alarm going off without a fire. After getting an explanation that your pain is not a sign of damage, you need to work hard to gradually stop avoiding situations that you think will cause pain.

If you have a fear of pain, talk to your family doctor. They might refer you to a specialist who will help you to overcome this fear. One strategy that psychologists use is to help you to develop a fear hierarchy (a list of different situations that you avoid because you fear pain). You will learn to gradually work through each of these feared situations and become comfortable with them.

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