Can Emotional Trauma Cause Physical Pain?

The answer is YES. In this article, it is explained in detail how emotional trauma can cause physical pain. More importantly, we will discuss what can help unlock the protective patterns that developed during times of trauma to help the body finish those traumatic experiences.

In order to understand how emotional trauma can stick with your body and eventually come out as physical symptoms, you need to understand how the body works. 

WHAT IS FASCIA IN THE BODY?

Fascia is a three-dimensional web of tough connective tissue that runs continuously from head to toe and helps to give our body structure. 

  • It doesn't begin and end in specific locations as we think with bones and muscles, but rather; it's an intricate web within our bodies.
  • Also coursing through that fascial web is what we call the “ground substance” or the fluid, which helps hydrate the fascia and the surrounding structures. 
  • Fascia surrounds and infuses every aspect of our bodies, including the bones, the muscles, the blood vessels, the spinal cord, the internal organs, all the way down to the cellular level. 
  • The fascial system can therefore affect every other system and function in the body. 
  • Fascial restrictions DO NOT show up on standardized tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or CAT scans. 

To help you understand that Fascia is something that connects everything in our body, look at the screenshot below: 

Everyday Fascia is the white stuff in the raw chicken between the skin and meat. And the white stuff in an orange when you peel it off.

 

Upon preparing chicken, when you pull the skin apart you will see that white glossy stuff that holds the skin to the chicken meat - that's the fascia of the chicken.
In an orange, the soft white inner layer after the peel and in between the section of each orange is the fascia that holds everything together. 

In our bodies, it's the same thing. The fascia holds everything together. 


The fascial system is a glide system

A system where everything moves and glides on each other. A spider web is a great visualization but it's not stationary but rather it's always moving, responding, and gliding to how our bodies move. When our arm lifts or our head turns, the fascia has to stretch and move in the same exact way.

Hands gliding because of soap and water like how fascia works

At the same time, the fluid within the system also needs to move. For example, if you put water between your hands and rub them, your hands don't necessarily glide on each other. But if you put soapy water between your hands they can easily glide and move and that's how the fascial system works.

But what happens when we have trauma?

Trauma (physical and/or emotional), inflammatory responses, and surgical procedures can create myofascial restrictions that can produce a myriad of symptoms. The symptoms are chronic and acute pain, headaches/migraines, numbness/tingling, weakness, and jaw pain. 

When there is a restriction, instead of gliding and moving nice and easy, muscles get stuck and don't move as well as they should be. As the fluid within the web becomes viscous and thick, it’s going to start to put pressure. And if the muscle can’t work, and the nerves can’t move and conduct electrical impulses up to the brain, there will be a lot of pressure on the system and create pain, headaches, etc.

WHAT IS MYOFASCIAL RELEASE (MFR)? 

MFR - effective hands-on technique applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue retrictions

Myofascial Release (MFR) is a safe, holistic, and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure (for a MINIMUM of 3-5 minutes) into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.

See related article: What is Myofascial Release? Does it work?

 An exceptional Physical Therapist would be able to find the restriction by visually looking at the person, examining how they're standing and moving.

Click here to contact Rachele - Your Exceptional Physical Therapist

How To Recover From Emotional Trauma

Again, restrictions not only come from physical traumas like a fall or a car accident but they can also come as a result of emotional traumas and emotional stresses.

Emotional traumas can be small things and it could be things that happened years ago like being bullied as a child as those things can stick with your body and eventually come out as physical symptoms.

In the book Trauma: Healing Your Past to Find Freedom Now, authors P. Shojai and N. Polizzi searches to answer why Western medicine has failed to fully heal things such as autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, strange digestive issues, migraines, brain fog, agonizing muscle pain, tension and aches, exhaustion, failed relationships, and addictions (to drugs, food, alcohol, etc.)

They found that the more experts they spoke to, the more they kept hearing about trauma and how unresolved pain is often the root. 

What is Fight/Flight/Freeze Response

Imagine this:

An impala is being chased by a lion. The impala is doing everything it can to get away to fight and flee from the impending danger of being caught. The impala takes all of its energy to try to get away and by doing that its adrenaline is up, its pupils are dilated, its breathing is heavier.

If let's say the lion does catch the impala, one of the things the impala can also do is freeze. It can use all of its energy to pretend like it's dead.

Sometimes, if the lion thinks they killed it, the lion will get disinterested and it will walk away. The impala then will find a way to take all the energy it just used to try to get away to expel it out of its body. With that, it finishes the response - it fights, it flies, it freezes, and then it thaws by trying to get away from the trauma.

Fight/Flight/Freeze Response - Impala and Lion

This happens in humans too.

Think about if you've ever been in a car accident or you've been scared for some reason where you're trying to get away from some type of danger, these things happen in our body and it takes a lot of energy to fight or flee or get away and it's a very primitive response. It happens innately and we can't stop it from happening.

However, very often with humans, we don't finish that traumatic experience so instead of thawing the freeze and getting rid of that energy, it gets stuck in our bodies.

During times of trauma, the subconscious develops a protective pattern that becomes locked in our mind-body complex like a frozen moment in time. With the myofascial release in a safe therapeutic environment, physical therapists can help unlock the protective patterns and help the body finish those traumatic experiences.
 
If the patient is still safe and protected, they're allowed to now move into those positions of space of past trauma and the instinctual bracing patterns that we don't even know we're holding on to can be released and it allows that freeze response to be deactivated.

 

An exceptional physical therapist forms intimate relationships with their patients to make them feel very comfortable telling them things.

Click here to contact Rachele - Your Exceptional Physical Therapist

Treating trauma is a “highly individualized process that frequently requires a multi-prong approach by combining some form of therapy (MFR), bodywork, and deep inner discovery along with lifestyle and self-nurturing practices. It is not something that happens after one therapy session - it’s truly a journey.”

“Mainstream medicine is firmly committed to a better life through chemistry, and the fact that we can actually change our own physiology and inner equilibrium by means other than drugs is rarely considered.” Bassel Van Der Kolk, MD; The Body Keeps the Score

With MFR in a safe therapeutic environment, physical therapists can help unlock the protective patterns and help the body finish traumatic experiences.

 

“Popping the pill is not always the best answer. It's not the answer that gets us to where we want to go. MFR is the multi-prong approach to treating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. It's so much more than the structural work of opening that fascia web and rehydrating the web. It's so much more than that because it allows us to feel into our bodies and really experience the things that we've gone through and get to the root cause of our problems instead of just putting band-aids on them with pills or surgeries or other things." - Rachele DeCrescenzo

Rachele is a Physical Therapist. Her practice is called The Healing Journey: Myofascial Release and Physical Therapy.

 You can watch the full recording of the presentation below.

 

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