Recent research using some high-tech tools more commonly seen on a Hollywood movie set, Jim Thomas and Christopher France from the Motor Control Laboratory atOhioUniversityfocused on a phenomenon called “fear avoidance.” In this self-fulfilling prophecy, people who fear re-injuring their backs after a painful accident move in restricted, unnatural ways that eventually can lead to re-injury–and further back pain.
Subjects were asked to perform motions such as leaning forward to touch a post or bending over to reach a box and motion-capturing cameras recorded their movements. The researchers discovered that people who were extremely afraid of re-injury–even if they no longer had pain from their original injury–showed all the symptoms of fear avoidance. “They’re still moving differently; they’re still protecting the spine,” Thomas says, noting that people suffering from fear avoidance often end up with less endurance, strength, and range of motion in their backs.
“We suspect that this could be driving the re-occurrence of low-back pain,” he explains. In order to help patients fully recover from back injuries, Thomas says, any therapies used to help people who show strong fear avoidance must take their fear into account. Note: In addition, people need to be trained to build strength and endurance in those specific joints and movement patterns where they display fear avoidance, which are typically the movements where injury occurred.
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