PTSD and Chronic Pain: Is There a Link?

Shopify API June 17, 2022 No Comments
Learn more about the link between PTSD and chronic pain, how they influence each other, and some natural treatments for both.

 Drowning in Chronic Pain
June 2022. This article is independently written by Shelby Golding. All opinions given are hers. Shelby has been certified as a personal trainer and nutritional specialist since 2007. In 2008, she found her passion for writing about these topics and hasn't looked back.
 Drowning in Chronic Pain

In the recent quest to identify causes and treatments for people with chronic pain, the connection between pain and PTSD was unearthed. Among those who have PTSD, almost 80% experience chronic pain symptoms. Meanwhile, about 15% to 30% of people with chronic pain also exhibit signs of PTSD.
These two disorders can be comorbid, a medical term that denotes two or more diseases simultaneously present in a patient. In the case of chronic pain and PTSD, each condition worsens the symptoms of the other, leaving many people struggling to maintain their quality of life and delaying their return to health.
Studies have found a clear link between chronic pain and PTSD. Keep reading to learn the specifics of that connection and natural treatments to lessen symptoms.

What Triggers the PTSD & Chronic Pain Connection?

When someone has comorbid chronic pain and PTSD, the symptoms for both are more severe than in people with only one condition. They are also more likely to have a disability or anxiety, depression, or opioid abuse disorders.
Since the connection between the two diseases has emerged, experts have been exploring why these two conditions seem to trigger each other.
After a traumatic event, the brain automatically imprints the memory into the amygdala. The amygdala remembers emotions and gets triggered when we are threatened or overwhelmed.
Your brain has an incontestable memory for trauma. It wants to ensure that you never end up in that situation again. So it constructs a constant reminder to avoid anything associated with the trauma in the future.
These triggers might manifest as physical pain, which serves as a constant reminder of the traumatic event. Or they might manifest as psychological pain that affects physical health over time, causing tight muscles, insomnia, stress, and other symptoms. Survivors of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse are more likely to develop chronic pain at some point in their lives.
Studies have found that people with anxiety disorder are more likely to develop chronic pain and PTSD together. Anxiety disorder is a psychological response caused by a physical health problem that leads to panic in situations that may seem trivial to someone else.
Other vulnerabilities that often result from trauma and cause comorbidity between PTSD and chronic pain include hypervigilance, avoidance behavior, autonomic dysfunction, and muscle pain.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Not only do these two conditions often arrive together, but they tend to worsen each other as well. Over time, they feed off one another, causing a seemingly never-ending loop of pain and psychological stress. This is called the Mutual Maintenance Model (MMM) in the medical community.
The MMM suggests that a person learns to focus on certain internal and external stimuli, giving more attention to those that may pose a threat or cause pain. As a result, they begin to expect the worst out of every situation, more so than a person with only one of the conditions.
The brain recreates neural pathways to help a person cope, but in the process, it creates unhealthy patterns. Coping strategies like avoidance, depression, and fatigue- and these strategies inevitably worsen symptoms of both PTSD and chronic pain.

In addition, the constant flood of stress hormones associated with PTSD and chronic pain can cause the amygdala to hijack where your body responds to psychological stress the same way it would a physical threat.
The constant cycle of psychological triggers causing physical pain and intensifying poor mental health is one that many find hard to break.

How to Treat PTSD/Chronic Pain

Many try to treat the symptoms of PTSD and chronic pain to restore quality of life. However, this leaves the underlying cause untreated.
Opioids used to be a standard treatment for people with chronic pain until studies revealed that people with musculoskeletal pain and PTSD are more likely to have OUD (Opioid Use Disorder). To prevent addiction and reduce the possibility of overdose, patients with a comorbidity of PTSD and chronic pain need to look elsewhere for relief.
Another possible roadblock in treating comorbid PTSD and chronic pain is strategizing on how to treat both simultaneously. Working with two separate practitioners, each treating one of the conditions, often leads to a disconnect and lack of progress. Treating one before the other probably won't work since they exacerbate each other and may cause worsening symptoms when you should be getting better.
To be successful, the integrated multidisciplinary model is the only real option. In this model, two or more practitioners work together to treat the issues simultaneously.

Common PTSD & Chronic Pain Treatments

Common PTSD & Chronic Pain Treatments

A few common treatments proven to help with both conditions are psychotherapy, mindfulness/meditation, and acupuncture.
Psychotherapy is found to be the single most effective way to treat comorbid PTSD and chronic pain. It allows the person to avoid unhealthy coping strategies and participate more fully in the present moment. For example, a psychologist might walk you through specific approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), to help the person readapt unhealthy coping strategies.
Mindfulness/meditation is an exercise in non-judgemental awareness. The participant learns to identify their triggers and associated physical sensations, emotions, and mental states that may precede a negative reaction. Regular meditation has also been proven to reduce pain, anxiety, stress, and depression. So while meditation isn't a cure for PTSD, it has been linked to improved symptoms since it calms the fight-or-flight response.
Acupuncture as trauma therapy is still undergoing investigation. However, anecdotal evidence suggests it is an effective treatment for anxiety, sleep problems, depression, stress, and chronic pain. The practitioner can relieve some of the strain on the body and mind that often accompanies long-term physical pain and illness by treating the symptoms.
Be sure to consult with your primary care practitioner before changing your current treatment plan or adding anything to it.

Is There a Link?

A definitive link has been found between PTSD and chronic pain, but what does that mean for you? The best way to treat comorbid conditions is still being investigated, but studies suggest that working on both conditions simultaneously is the only way to achieve lasting results. An integrative approach involves a lot of communication between you and your providers.

If you’re dealing with chronic pain right now, apply your Kailo pain patch near the site of pain – Kailo is designed to provide pain relief in seconds. A recent clinical study showed that patients reported a significant increase in quality of life when switching to Kailo from oral medication.
Disclaimer: Kailo should not be used if you have a pacemaker or if you are pregnant. Always consult your doctor or health care professional before using Kailo.


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