© 2018 by SCOPE and Sylviane G. James

The Fear of Moving

October 29, 2016

For most chronic pain patients, the simple task of sitting down or standing up is a careful display of strategic and distorted moves that takes all of their focus, an intense expression on their face and lots of time: a world of pain. I see this every day in my clinic. Yet once up, I see that they can smile again.


"Are you in pain when you move?" I ask them, "Or are you in fear?"

This very question is mind-boggling to most people.  But, at the very moment when they question themselves about it, something happens on their faces - a veil lifts. A moment before, they were certain of their pain. But fear? They wonder "Is that all it is? But if it's simply fear, why can't I move?".

Well, sometimes we do not move the way our bodies were intended to move because of fear of pain. It may be that through the distorted, fearful moves you make, you cement your body and your mind into believing you are in more pain and in more danger than your really are.

Of course, at first my patients don't believe me just because I said so. They have lived this way for years. They "know" how much pain they are in, plus the doctors can not do anything (which makes their condition even more real, dangerous and intense).

So instead of telling, I show them. I suggest that we mindfully look at the process, slow everything down to a point where they can perform a simple movement according to the body's biomechanics and we see what they FEEL, not what they believe they MIGHT feel?

And so I show them how to move slowly, yet appropriately for their body, how to sit or to stand or to walk. I encourage them to feel the reality of what they are feeling, while moving with all the right actions, recruiting the right muscle at the right time, in the right sequence. And they all discover that they can actually move without pain, or perhaps with discomfort instead of pain. My patients learn to differentiate between pain and fear, which allows them to take control of their body and their movement with confidence.

This fear of moving when we are in pain is actually wisdom: the body needs to recover before you can work on your range of movement and your strength again. But with chronic pain it is very different. The signals are all mixed up: pain, fear, and despair create extra tension in the body. In some cases, the original problem may even have been solved, but the fear of pain continues - causing the experience of more pain.


For patients in chronic pain, the fear of moving can create a toxic belief system where the injury takes on proportions far beyond reality. Everything is distorted by emotions, and it's easy to dissociate from the reality of the body.


I teach my patients how to listen to their bodies, carefully, with love rather than fear, with curiosity, respect, and stillness, in the present moment...mindfully.


This technique is tried and tested, with tangible results.

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