Chronic pain, by definition, persists and lingers in the body. Suffering continues well after your injury heals or fades away. In fact, your brain and body register pain for months or even years after damage occurs. It is no huge leap then to conceive that complex PTSD and chronic pain go hand-in-hand.
After all, the emotional pain that comes from suffering years or even decades of trauma also becomes stuck in the body. If it is not processed, the tension takes up residence in the nervous system. Over time, your unresolved past can become very present, debilitating physical pain.
If you are like so many people coping with complex trauma, your emotional pain may originate from childhood abuse. Perhaps a terrifying prolonged relationship with an abusive adult is the origin of your posttraumatic stress symptoms. The resulting fear, anxiety, and stress all are part of complex PTSD.
Let’s explore further how complex PTSD and chronic pain are intricately linked and what you can do to heal both.
Chronic Pain can Result from Past Physical Abuse
Physical abuse, though perpetrated long ago, still affects you. For instance, if you were often attacked by your abuser, then you might have experienced a broken bone or a concussion. These injuries, if not treated properly, can be sources of pain throughout your life. Maybe it’s in the form of migraines or a bone that never set correctly and now hurts.
The tragic thing is that these are physical reminders of the emotional abuse that you suffered. That not only makes it hard to heal physically but emotionally recover as well. As time progresses, the physical and emotional pain fuel each other.
Chronic Pain can Result from a Life “on Alert”
People who experience complex trauma consequently struggle with post-traumatic stress symptoms that foster an experience of feeling on guard all the time. In effect, your brain goes into a hyperarousal, protective mode. It wants to ensure that you are safe. Essentially, Complex-PTSD teaches the body to remain in a state of alarm.
If you are always on alert, the sympathetic nervous system that promotes “survival mode” is always activated. The resulting build-up of excess stress hormones like cortisol has a prolonged and detrimental impact on your pain tolerance, the strength of your immune system, and your capacity to heal. Extreme fluctuations in your heart rate, blood pressure, etc eventually take their toll on your adrenal glands, joints, organs, and more.
Complex-PTSD can Lead to Pain-producing Coping Behavior
If you suffer from C-PTSD you may have learned to cope in ways that don’t serve your body well. Some C-PTSD sufferers cope with their unresolved trauma with unhealthy habits (drinking, drug use, etc.) that fuel inflammation long-term.
Other sufferers cope by living a “safe” and sedentary life. You may resist interaction with the world or your own body, refraining from outside activity or exercise. Muscle and body pains result. Without intervention, this can become chronic back pain, migraines, etc.
Finally, there are times when the human body simply knows that something is wrong and holds the tension. Thus, you experience chronic pain that you can’t explain. The brain and the body are connected in ways that we don’t fully understand. It could be that the unexplained pain you feel is the result of unexplored, unresolved complex PTSD from your past.
Getting Help for PTSD and Chronic Pain
If you believe you are experiencing chronic pain as a result of complex PTSD, then it’s important that you have professional therapeutic support. It’s also critical that you work with a therapist who is trauma-informed and understands the nuances of the connection between your brain and your body. There are also helpful clinical tools that can help with treating complex trauma and chronic pain. Consider the following:
Neurofeedback therapy: A process where your therapist studies your brain patterns and works with you to create new pathways that help to resolve your PTSD.
EMDR therapy: This is where you and a therapist focus on specific aspects of your trauma in order to resolve them. You prepare by learning appropriate coping tools, and during a session utilize eye-movements to stimulate change in your brain.
QEEG Brain Mapping: This tool provides a detailed image of your brain and how it responds to stress. It can be used to assess and guide treatment decisions which encourage the neuroplasticity of your brain to change and adapt to better cope with complex PTSD.
Finally, there is certainly a link between complex PTSD and chronic pain. Yet, many don’t fully realize the connection between the two and suffer for far too long. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can heal from your posttraumatic stress symptoms through counseling. Find out more about how trauma therapy can help you and contact me for a consultation soon.