Many people living with fibromyalgia can trace their symptoms back to a particularly traumatic event such as a car accident or injury. Others have experienced short or long term emotional, sexual or physical trauma as a child or adult.
Understanding the link with trauma may help bring some relief.
Fibromyalgia and trauma
Until more recently the relevance of traumatic experiences and stressors, especially during childhood, have been overlooked as predisposing factors in the development of various chronic pain disorders and psychiatric conditions. These include fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse all trigger high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies. Chronic or long term stimulation of these fight/flight hormones weakens the immune system, and affects the health of the digestive system, energy production, and heightens our pain perception.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the most common traumatic stressors affecting children include accidents, physical or sexual trauma or abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic and community violence. Other impactful stressors include
Other impactful stressors include the death of a family member, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, and natural disasters.
These traumatic stressors precondition the neurological system and the stress response system to produce exaggerated responses to normal stimuli (hypervigilance), especially when they are experienced during childhood.
Fibromyalgia and the irritable bowel syndrome associated with it are examples of hyper vigilant neurological responses. Normal stimuli such as clothing rubbing against the skin, or even wind on the face, can produce painful sensations in those with fibromyalgia, indicating an exaggerated pain response.
Normal stimuli such as clothing rubbing against the skin, or even wind on the face, can produce painful sensations in those with fibromyalgia, indicating an exaggerated pain response. Also, the muscles of the intestine are inappropriately stimulated by normal stressors, leading to alternating constipation and spastic
In addition, the muscles of the intestine are inappropriately stimulated by normal stressors, leading to alternating constipation and spastic diarrhea, classic signs of irritable bowel syndrome. The heightened pain response will also cause abdominal pain.
The link with PTSD
John D Otis, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University, has studied the link between PTSD in veterans and fibromyalgia.
He has found that a large number of them experience fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions which are unrelated to any physical injuries.
There is a great deal of evidence that physical injuries such as those sustained in a car accident or fall will trigger fibromyalgia, often developing some time after the event.
It is believed by some scientists that the physical trauma may actually cause biochemical changes in the brain. For example, accidents, injuries, or sudden trauma to the central nervous system may result in the different symptoms of severe muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems, depression, and other conditions associated with fibromyalgia.
However, these events also cause emotional trauma, so it is not fully understood whether it is the physical or emotional stress that triggers the response, or a combination of the two.
It is apparent, therefore, that consideration of emotional trauma is essential when assessing and seeking to treat fibromyalgia.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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