Most people recognize PTSD as solely a mental health issue, and that is certainly the case. But, there is often a greater connection between PTSD and physical pain than many of us realize.
The effects of trauma can manifest themselves in many ways, including physical symptoms in the body.
Understanding that connection can help you recognize some symptoms sooner. As a result, you can get the treatment and help you need—both for the physical pain and the PTSD that may trigger it.
With that in mind, let’s talk more about that connection and how to recognize it in your own life.
How Your Brain Responds
When you have a PTSD trigger, your brain responds with fear. Any time you’re in a dangerous situation—even if it’s only perceived—your amygdala is overreacting. It sends your brain into “fight or flight” mode and activates the sympathetic nervous system response.
No matter how your mind responds, those effects trickle down to your body. There is an increase in stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which can impact the way you feel physically. When our brains are on alert, we tend to see everything around us as dangerous.
Pain and other physical symptoms can show up when our brain perceives danger. Pain becomes chronic when our brain begins to make an association between fear and pain. The more stress we feel, the more pain increases. And then our brain remembers the connection between fear and pain, and we can develop ongoing pain or other physical symptoms.
Chronic Stress Equals Chronic Pain
For some people who have experienced PTSD, the stress, anxiety, and fear can be persistent.
For some, it can feel like those thoughts and feelings never go away.
Unfortunately, that can lead to chronic pain throughout your body, as well. The more our brains make a connection between fear and a physical symptom, like pain, the more likely those symptoms are to stick around. That often causes a “vicious cycle”, where you become anxious about the pain, so the pain gets worse and feels like you can never get a break from either problem.
Even if your symptoms are manageable most of the time, it’s not uncommon for a flashback or trigger to exacerbate them. The hard part is, you never know when that will occur. So, you might live with the fear or worry of not knowing when mental or physical symptoms will show up.
What Can Help?
If PTSD is causing physical symptoms for you, there are options that can help.
If you are experiencing pain or other physical symptoms, pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) can help. PRT has been clinically proven to reduce pain by breaking the association between fear and pain. Read more about PRT here.
Another treatment option for PTSD is EMDR therapy. By reprocessing the thoughts surrounding your trauma, it won’t seem so powerful and in control.
EMDR gives you the opportunity to think about the traumatic experience in a different way. Instead of letting it overwhelm you with fear and stress, you will start to weaken its hold on you and learn how to process it differently. Eventually, it won’t have that stressful, worrying effect anymore and you’ll be able to cope effectively.
If you’re struggling with physical pain because of PTSD, taking care of your mental health is one of the best things you can do. Feel free to contact our practice for more information about how the therapies we offer can help.