knee osteoarthritis and fear of movement

‘Fear of movement’ limiting activity levels of knee osteoarthritis patients 

We may be aware of the damage that osteoarthritis can impose on the body, but we’re still trying to understand how it affects us mentally – as a new study from the University of North Carolina reveals. According to the study, which was published in the American medical journal Arthritis Care & Research last month, sufferers of knee osteoarthritis are developing a fear of movement associated with the condition, which is leading to a decrease in active lifestyles, a drop in their quality of life, and increasing the risk of their conditions worsening.

The study involved a total of 350 participants, who were invited to take part in a clinical trial where they were asked to evaluate their fear of movement, as well as providing details on their age, sex, race, education, pain levels and general daily activities. Trends such as knee symptom duration, depressive traits, injury history and balance were also assessed.

The fear of falling

After the date was processed, it revealed that 77% of the study group agreed with at least one item on the Brief Fear of Movement measurement scale, with 36% endorsing three or more items, suggesting they had a pronounced fear of movement. Furthermore, it was found that patients’ age, daily activity levels, history of depression and capacity for exercise all had a big influence on their mindset in this regard.

Clearly, these results are concerning to say the least. It’s an understandable point of view, though: when a part of your body that you’ve trusted to work throughout your life breaks down, it’s very difficult to get that trust back. And the results suggest that this fear of further damage are holding back OA sufferers from staying active, which can lead to even worse damage in the long term.

Take the first step back to health

As all sports medicine experts know, getting an athlete off the surgery table and back onto the field of play takes so much more than a mere operation: the athlete has to both physically and mentally prepare themselves to relearn the techniques that were natural responses before the injury, and to trust their own bodies not to let them down again.

As this study makes clear, non-athletes need to take that same journey too. And, like the pros, more often than not they’ll need a bit of help to get there. As Devi Rani Sagar – research liaison manager at Arthritis Research UK – pointed out: “We know that the chronic pain caused by arthritis can be a barrier in keeping active. This understandable fear of movement, caused by the pain someone can feel, is a factor in stopping people from including exercise in their daily lives.

“Exercise is incredibly important and we are committed to helping people remain active. We have developed specialised exercises tailored specifically for people with knee osteoarthritis to help people build up the confidence to exercise. We also recommend that a person with their arthritis speak to their GP if they are worried about exercising.”