Kate Mroz-Weinstein suffered a few aches and pains after she picked up distance running to relieve the stress of writing her doctoral dissertation. Yet despite the discomfort, she eventually got so good at it that she qualified to run the most prestigious road race on the planet: the Boston Marathon.
That race was just four weeks away when, on the morning she was to defend her dissertation, Mroz-Weinstein went on a seven-mile training run to clear her head and heard a snap.
Her sacroiliac joint — where the lower spine and pelvis connect — had come out of alignment, her doctor told her. The injury caused such severe lower-back pain that she could hardly walk. Her next visit was to the physical therapist.
“My PT said it would be fine,” she said. But Mroz-Weinstein wasn’t fine. “I was a complete mess. I would start crying if anything hurt.”
Even though she was still in pain, Mroz-Weinstein recovered enough to struggle through the marathon. But she didn’t experience the elation she had expected when she crossed the finish line, and she didn’t return to her usual running regimen after the race. Instead, at 29, she was immobilized by fear that she would hurt herself again.
“Anytime I had pain, I’d start freaking out,” Mroz-Weinstein says. “I was making appointments I probably didn’t need with my doctor and my PT” every couple weeks. “My husband said, ‘I don’t want to hear it anymore.’”
Determined to overcome her fears and encouraged by her friends, Mroz-Weinstein hired a running coach. “I would get scared because he’d give me these hard workouts, and I’d think, ‘I’m going to injure myself.’ And he would say, ‘No, you’re not.’”
Mroz-Weinstein’s coach eventually told her that her problem wasn’t physical—it was psychological. He said there was a word for it: traumatophobia.
“I thought he made that up,” she says.
Traumatophobia is the real, debilitating fear among injured athletes of reinjuring themselves. Psychiatrists and physical therapists say they’re seeing an uptick in the phenomenon.