something that obstructs or hinders progress.

1300–50; Middle English < Old French < Latin obstāculum, equivalent to obstā(re) to face, block, hinder (ob- ob- + stāre to stand) + -culum -cle2

Obstacle, obstruction, hindrance, impediment refer to something that interferes with or prevents action or progress. An obstacle is something, material or nonmaterial, that stands in the way of literal or figurative progress: Lack of imagination is an obstacle to one's advancement. An obstruction is something that more or less completely blocks a passage: A blood clot is an obstruction to the circulation. A hindrance keeps back by interfering and delaying: Interruptions are a hindrance to one's work. An impediment interferes with proper functioning: an impediment in one's speech.

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World English Dictionary
obstacle (ˈɒbstəkəl)
1.  a person or thing that opposes or hinders something
2.  (Brit) a fence or hedge used in showjumping
[C14: via Old French from Latin obstāculum, from obstāre, from ob- against + stāre to stand]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

mid-14c., from O.Fr. ostacle "hindrance," from L. obstaculum "a hindrance, obstacle," from obstare "stand opposite to, block, hinder," from ob "against" + stare "to stand," from PIE base *sta- "to stand" (see stet).
"The lover thinks more often of reaching his mistress than the husband of guarding his wife; the prisoner thinks more often of escaping than the gaoler of shutting his door; and so, whatever the obstacles may be, the lover and the prisoner ought to succeed." [Stendhal]
Obstacle course is attested from 1973.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
However, the biggest obstacle to making cellulosic ethanol commercially
  feasible is the breakdown of cellulose.
Depending on the process, replacement of these components can be a significant
  economic obstacle.
Another obstacle to open access, he adds, is that the information is incredibly
His group is working to boost the power output of the films--the main obstacle
  is the quality of the electrodes.
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