Common Conditions Associated With Chronic Pain:
- Abdominal Pain
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Back Pain
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Foot & Leg Pain
- Hip Pain
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Knee Pain
- Neck Pain
- Migraines & Headaches
- Nerve Pain
- Phantom Limb Pain
- Physical Pain from Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment
- Shoulder Pain
Trauma & Chronic Pain
Upwards of 90% of women with fibromyalgia syndrome report trauma in either their childhood or adulthood and 60% of those with arthritis report such a trauma history.2 With or without back surgery, upwards of 76% of patients with chronic low back pain report having had at least one trauma in their past.3 Sixty-six percent of women with chronic headache report a past history of physical or sexual abuse.4 Among men and women, fifty-eight percent of those with migraines report histories of childhood physical or sexual abuse, or neglect.5 Women with chronic pelvic pain also report high rates of sexual abuse in their past, upwards of 56%.6
As a point of comparison, rates in the general population for physical abuse in childhood are 22% for males and 19% for females; rates in the general population for self-reported childhood sexual abuse are 14% for males and 32% for females.7 Rates of adult sexual assault in the general population are 22% for women and about 4% for men.8 Domestic violence is upwards of 21% in the general population.9
This doesn’t prove that trauma causes chronic pain, but those with trauma may be predisposed to developing chronic pain.
The Nervous System & Chronic Pain
Central sensitization is a condition associated with chronic pain in which the nervous system becomes stuck in a state of heightened reactivity and maintains pain even after the initial injury or illness heals. When clients with a history of trauma get injured or become ill, their nervous system is already in a state of persistent reactivity. Their nervous system has been in repeated “flight, flight or freeze” response, your body’s natural overdrive system to prepare you for danger.
In 1998, the CDC and Kaiser Permanente released the ACE study, which explored “adverse childhood experiences.” Specifically, the study surveyed 17,000 middle-income adults who had health data stretching back to their early childhoods. The ACE research indicated that the more adversities an individual experienced as a child — whether poverty, parental death or incarceration, neighborhood violence, or abuse — the more likely that person would suffer from serious physiological disorders as an adult.
When we are threatened, our bodies have what is called a stress response, which prepares our bodies to fight or flee. However, when this response remains highly activated in a child for an extended period of time without the calming influence of a supportive parent or adult figure, toxic stress occurs and can damage crucial neural connections in the developing brain. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, the impacts of experiencing repeated incidents of toxic stress as a child “…persist far into adulthood, and lead to lifelong impairments in both physical and mental health.”
Connecting Pain & Trauma
Research has shown us and continues to show us that we must not overlook the biological impacts of trauma on the body. There are many brain-based trauma therapies like EMDR and Brainspotting that allow for the “stuck” trauma and nervous system to become unstuck and greatly reduces the symptoms adverse experiences were having on the body. For many, they see greatly reduced or complete symptom relief. Treating someone’s trauma is not guaranteed to heal the pain, but it can prepare their body and nervous system for the healing process. If treated early enough, one can wonder if we can prevent acute illnesses from becoming chronic ones?
By having a clinician that values a holistic approach to wellness, meaning they are looking at your whole body and mind when treating a condition, you have a better chance at symptom reduction and complete path to healing. The practitioners here at Integrative Therapy of Nashville do just that!
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