Genuphobia (Fear of Knees)

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What is genuphobia?

Your knee is the largest joint in your body. Most people don’t really think about their knees, but some people have an illogical fear of them. The name for this condition is genuphobia. It comes from the Latin word, genu, which means knee and the Greek word, phobia, which means fear. Genuphobia is translated as fear of knees or of injury to the knees.

A phobia is a form of anxiety disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is an excessive, irrational and overwhelming fear of something that in reality poses little or no threat. The focus can be anything, including animals, people, objects, activities, or a situation. People with phobias generally know their reaction doesn’t reflect reality. But they can’t control their response to the phobia stimulus.

Genuphobia falls under the category of simple phobias or specific phobias. With these phobias, there is a specific trigger of the fear. Phobias with a specific focus are the most common type of phobia. The estimated incidence of simple phobias is around 9%.

In genuphobia, the focus of the phobia is a body part—the knee. Genuphobia causes a persistent and unreasonable fear of knees or of injuring the knees. People may view the knees as repulsive or as overly vulnerable to injury. For some people, even thinking about knees can cause distress and anxiety. In most cases, people who have genuphobia know their fear is disproportionate with reality.

What are the symptoms of genuphobia?

Like other simple phobias, genuphobia symptoms are both physical and psychological. While the fear may not reflect reality, the physical effects of it are very real. They are the result of physiologic changes in response to perceived danger. This fight-or-flight reaction runs on adrenaline, which causes physical symptoms including:

  • Trembling, shivering or shaking

Common psychological genuphobia symptoms include:

  • Avoidance of looking at or touching knees or of activities that stress the knees, such as kneeling
  • Dread or worry about knees or knee injuries
  • Guilt or shame about the fear of knees
  • Intense distress or panic when looking at knees, thinking about them, or activities involving them
  • Recognition that fear of knees is irrational

When children have genuphobia, they may not be able to express their distress appropriately. Instead, they may react with inconsolable crying, clinginess, or temper tantrums.

If you think you have genuphobia, see your doctor. Simple phobias can be very disruptive to normal living. Fortunately, early treatment is often successful at resolving the anxiety and distress of simple phobias.

What are the causes of genuphobia?

Experts believe simple phobias, including genuphobia, are the result of genetic and environmental influences. Sometimes, past experiences involving the knees may be to blame. This may include traumatic knee injuries, or abuse or mental trauma surrounding the knees. In this case, the amygdala—a tiny area in the brain—likely plays a role. It records your reactions to events and recalls the emotions when you encounter a similar event. In genuphobia, it could be reminding you of the fear and scariness of a past event with your knees.

However, most people can’t link their fear to a specific event. And many people with a simple phobia have a first-degree relative with the same or a similar phobia. This has led researchers to consider a genetic aspect to phobias. Inherited traits, such as personality and temperament, may be an explanation. But people also “inherit” behaviors and mindsets by learning them from the family. So, it’s hard to tell whether phobias that run in families are indeed genetic or learned.

What are the treatments for genuphobia?

Many people beat themselves up over phobias. They may think it’s a sign of weakness or others may belittle their fears. It’s often a relief just to know a phobia is a real anxiety disorder with treatments available. In general, doctors recommend treatment for phobias when they disrupt your normal life. This includes affecting your ability to function and have relationships at work, school, social situations, or in your personal life.

The most effective genuphobia treatments involve psychotherapy—or talk therapy—including:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This form of talk therapy teaches you to identify and change negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors. A therapist helps you learn new attitudes and beliefs about them. In phobias, the goal is to see your fear differently and develop the confidence to face it. CBT works best when therapists combine it with exposure therapy.
  • Exposure therapy or desensitization therapy. This type of talk therapy takes you through controlled situations involving knees. A therapist helps you work through your reaction with anxiety reduction techniques. The process starts with small exposures like simply thinking about knees. Once you can master your reaction, the therapist will move you to more intense exposures. This could include looking at or touching knees. The goal is to desensitize you from the phobia stimulus.

Talk therapy is the preferred way to treat simple phobias, including genuphobia. It offers the most success for long-term control of fear and anxiety. In some cases, doctors may recommend medications. Medicines can be useful short-term to get started with talk therapy or when other mood disorders are present. Medicines are also helpful when phobias involve temporary situations, such as fear of flying.

Simple phobias, including genuphobia, can take a toll on your mental health. Complications can develop from constantly living with anxiety and fear. This includes:

  • Social isolation, which can lead to loneliness and problems with work, school and social relationships
  • Substance abuse with alcohol or drugs
  • Suicidal ideation in severe cases

It is important to realize all phobias are real, clinical conditions. Acknowledging your phobia of knees is real—and that it’s having a real impact on your daily life—is the first step toward finding treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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