While I was was looking up something on chronic pain the other day I came across algophobia – which is fear of having pain. Most of us with chronic pain tend to suffer from algophobia. I don’t know about you, but I developed extreme anxiety about my pain levels possibly rising. The pain levels we experience in fibromyalgia are extremely high and unbearable that I worry or protect myself from possibly exposing myself to actions that may cause increased pain levels to arise. People with algophobia often have intense feelings of worry, panic or even have depression result. The truth of the matter – the anxiety algophobia creates can leave a person more sensitive to pain!
Back in the fall of 2020 I decided to attend a pain clinic. This pain clinic is where my algophobia began. I attempted their recommended stretches – which soon led to increased pain levels and being unable to move out of bed. They discharged me from the program stating it was unsuccessful. In the mean time it left me being scared to do anything. I was even scared to go to the store or go for a small walk for increased pain levels would result. I eventually got to know my limits and when to stop before my pain levels would increase. I found my own rhythm without help. This last fall 2022 , I attended more programming through another clinic which suggested an exercise program once again. It created unease very quickly and I began to have major anxiety episodes. I had anxiety and worry even before the assessment with the kinisiologist. Upon filling out papers for the psychologist i soon realized I was showing as having an anxiety disorder. After reading about algophobia, I’m sure this is what I was experiencing at the time. I soon began having higher pain levels which I attribute to the thought of a kinesiologist incorporating an exercise program in knowing how my body reacted at the last pain clinic.
If you live with chronic pain, most of us will avoid situations or actions that can possibly increase our pain. We protect ourselves. Its human nature to protect ourselves. However, when it comes down to algophobia experts state that exaggerating the threat of pain can actually make the pain worse. It is known that the chemicals in your brain that regulate anxiety and fear also regulate how you perceive pain. The imbalances of these chemicals can trigger both problems.
Symptoms of Algophobia
- Fear-avoidance. You may find yourself avoiding activities and exercise that you believe may cause you pain. Who wouldn’t avoid taking part in something that causes pain?
- Catastrophizing. Envisioning every situation before hand to predict whether it will produce pain. You look for the worst possible outcome in every situation. In our case pain levels.
- Hypervigilance. You may focus on pain levels in every situation.
- Experience symptoms of anxiety attacks.
How to overcome Algophobia
1. Cognitive behavioral Therapy. A psychologist can help you overcome your fear of pain. Your therapist will help you change the way you think about pain. I won’t mention any cognitive behavioral strategies here as there are many different approaches and each therapist will take a different route in treatment.
2. Exposure therapy. Slowly exposing yourself to situations and avoided movements that you were afraid would cause higher pain levels to arise may be used. For example instead of doing full leg stretches, maybe start off by laying in bed doing a few ankle rolls instead.
3. Exercise or physical movement. Chronic pain sufferers often avoid movement due to increased pain. Experts say that gradually increasing exercise or movement can increase chemicals in your brain that manage pain more efficiently. I have yet been successful in trying this. I do increase my movement, but it often always results in high pain levels overtime, no decreased levels. I often wonder if my chronic fatigue plays a role in this. As the fatigue sets in, my pain levels increase. I guess everyone is different.
Most people can learn to manage their fear of pain with the right combination of treatments. For myself, I still struggle and continue to over come Algophobia. I hope one day I can live without the fear of increased pain levels.