woman with ptsd

How PTSD Can Worsen Chronic Pain

Research has shown that there is a link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. This is of great interest to the physiatrists at Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine since we are doctors who specialize in nonsurgical pain relief and are fully committed to a holistic approach.

We see many patients who, in addition to their physical problems, are dealing with the trauma of a car, sporting, or construction accident, the trauma of the battlefield, or the trauma of having suffered a serious case of COVID.

Studies Show the Mind-Body Connection Between Physical Pain and PTSD

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs reports that:

  • About 15 to 35 percent of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD
  • Only 2 percent of people who do not have chronic pain have PTSD
  • Of patients with chronic low back pain, 51 percent have PTSD symptoms

Numerous other studies outside of the military give similar evidence. If you are suffering chronic joint or muscle pain that may be related to PTSD, contacting one of our offices is a wise idea. We have cutting-edge diagnostic equipment and a broad variety of treatment options that can help to turn your life in a positive direction.

Where PTSD Symptoms Manifest in the Body

Not only are physical injuries worsened by the emotions of PTSD (e.g. heightened alertness and reaction to stimuli, anxiety, fear, helplessness, panic). These emotional responses themselves precipitate stress and tension which can lead to or exacerbate:

  • Migraines and other headaches
  • Stomachaches and digestive disturbances
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • TMJ
  • Pelvic pain/sexual dysfunction
  • Muscle and joint aches, especially in the back and neck
  • Sleep disturbances

In a vicious cycle, these common physical reactions to PTSD frequently lead to destructive lifestyle repercussions.

How Patients May Unconsciously Make Things Worse

Patients with this combination of problems may worsen the situation by:

  • Being less physically active because they feel unwell and/or depressed
  • Having less human interaction for the same reasons
  • Overeating and becoming obese
  • Losing their appetite and becoming frail and depleted
  • Smoking
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Neglecting to clean and/or self-groom, hoarding

These habits, of course, only make their outlook, their appearance, and their ability to function further deteriorate, leaving them with more time to focus on their pain and discomfort. Also, ironically, research indicates that pain itself can increase inflammatory responses that result in more pain. Without proper treatment, PTSD and chronic pain may even decrease life expectancy.

How Our Doctors Can Help to Reverse the Cycle

If you or a loved one is caught in a spiral of pain and despair complicated by PTSD, working with our physiatrists can alleviate your pain and ease you back into the enjoyable routine of life before the trauma.

At our initial appointment with you, we will discuss which of our therapeutic options is best for you. Typically we recommend a combination of traditional and complementary treatments that work well together, such as:

  • Acupuncture
  • Braces and other assistive devices, like canes, to rest the injured area
  • Personalized physical therapy
  • Therapeutic injections of a corticosteroid and analgesics

Depending on the severity of the PTSD component of your problem, we recommend that, in addition to the above therapies, you seek psychological and/or psychiatric treatment, enroll in a course of meditation or yoga or find some other way to encourage your mind to help your body heal.

Contact Our Experienced Chronic Pain Doctors Today

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that nothing can be done about your chronic pain or your troubling thoughts. We know that the pain you feel is real and that you are not malingering. We understand the complex issues that arise when chronic pain is entangled with PTSD. Contact us now and let the talented professionals at Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine be part of your solution.