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How Having PTSD Can Impact Chronic Body Pain

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For the past several years, I have been chasing pain in my body. It feels like a phantom.

It has no discernible cause. I cannot pinpoint a start date. I cannot replicate the symptoms at a specific time, nor does it seem to get worse or better if I do certain things.

• What is PTSD?

I had similar types of pain as a child. Specifically, it was in my neck. I was well aware that even if I brought this pain to the attention of an adult they would ask me to describe it in more detail or ask me how to replicate it. I would be unable. Things like that were dismissed, or only attended to only when they got worse.

Now in my adulthood, things seem to be getting worse. The body pain I’m currently experiencing is interrupting my day-to-day choices. A set of x-rays came back showing signs of arthritis, in my mid-30s. I seem unable to identify triggers, beyond poor desk structures or a bad mattress. Seeing a chiropractor can be a quick fix, but began being even unable to manage pain in the short term.

After a few years of forced optimism, neck and back gizmos from the internet, regular chiropractor visits and even finally starting EMDR, the pain was actually getting worse rather than better.

Strangely, this didn’t completely discourage me. At least the pain wasn’t stagnant. It was moving as I was progressing through therapy. However, it wasn’t moving in the direction I would prefer. I saw this going one of two ways.

1. I could either keep sinking more and more money into guessing which therapy and gizmos would work for me during the lengthy emotional healing process while I waited for the physical process to catch up. Or…

2. I could chase the physical pain just as proactively as I was chasing my psychological pain.

I was seen by a physical therapist approximately three years after I first remember the pain becoming invasive in my adulthood. Like my mental health, I felt as if I had lots of invalidated and unanswered questions.

After meeting with a young woman, I finally had someone saying: Yes. My shoulders were not symmetrical. There did appear to be a muscle weakness on one side. I was likely overcompensating. Here are exactly six exercises and the frequency at which I should be doing them in order to resolve the muscular issues. And we can go from there.

I felt seen, though she had simply done her job.

You know what was not part of her job? Getting me in the door.

I had to make the initial contact. I wouldn’t have been there without making the initial appointment. If my recent neck flare-up, and my subsequent (and positive!) chiropractor and EMDR appointments had done enough progress for my liking, perhaps I wouldn’t have reached out. Or perhaps they did exactly as much as they needed to do, and I’m learning how to better advocate for myself.

Those of us with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to have varying levels of low self-esteem because we doubt ourselves. Specifically, those of us with Complex PTSD are often untrusting of our reality. There is often something in our past that created a long-term false sense of security, or string of lies. Therefore, we often do things like second guess our pain, tell ourselves that things will get better or invalidate ourselves by saying it’s probably not that bad. We are unable to advocate for our own needs.

As I progress in my other types of therapy, I am learning how to better reach out for further assistance. Even if a substantial portion of my ongoing body pain is psychosomatic, the results can still be physical. If I seek the proper help for how to heal those physical symptoms, the faster I can get to relief.

Will the manual exercises get me there? Maybe. Will I need an MRI to know exactly what’s going on inside? It’s a possibility, only if everything persists. Do I have a lack of curvature in my spine and my neck due to my extreme muscle tightness? Yes. That is measurable. Can this be due to stress and an overactive fight-or-flight response? Absolutely.

Will I find relief soon? I hope so.

Getty image by gud_zyk

Originally published: October 25, 2020
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