The Oxford Languages dictionary defines trauma as "emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis."
Living in pain is traumatic.
Sometimes we experience trauma that's related to what we call an "acute injury event". Other times back pain seems to show up as a result of a major life event where it may seem as though a profound emotional trauma instigates the onset of pain.
What's rarely discussed is how closely chronic physical pain is linked to trauma. Numerous studies have demonstrated that not only do adults with a history of multiple "ACEs" or Adverse Childhood Events suffer more from chronic pain, but they are also more likely to get addicted to pain meds (that topic will have to be a whole other post).
So if we agree that pain is trauma, then why do so many clinicians still treat pain like it's just a mechanical boo-boo? We've got to start collaborating across disciplines so that we can address the whole person, including the emotions and experiences leading up to and resulting from pain.
Because that's the kicker...When we live in pain, it's traumatic: The joy just seeps out of us as we lose our our sense of self, our quality of life and our community.
It is deeply unsettling to be in a constant state of pain. I often hear a version of "but who am I to complain?" from my clients - even though they're in a significant amount of discomfort on a regular basis. However, negating our true feelings can actually make things worse. Despite feeling uncomfortable, and unhappy, many of us don't feel that we have a right to feel crappy, so then we end up feeling even worse about ourselves for not being "stronger". It can be a very isolating and vicious cycle.
As a society, we tend to give more credence to big "T" traumas (things like assault, abuse and war) than little "t" traumas” (non-life-threatening injuries, emotional abuse, death of a pet, harassment, break-ups). Although little "t" traumas don't meet the criteria for PTSD, minimizing the impact of these little “t” incidents can lead to adverse coping behaviors such as bottling up emotions or attempting to manage symptoms without support. Failing to address this aspect of emotional suffering from our pain may lead to cumulative damage over time.
The smaller traumas are often downplayed or negated and we may not even consider our aggregate insults as trauma because we haven’t been in war or because we weren’t assaulted. But your experiences are still valid and you deserve understanding and support.
Especially now (durning Coronavirus), when: Living in a pandemic- trauma. Living as a person of color through systemic racism - trauma. Losing your job/identity/community/income - also trauma.
I'm writing this because I've been there; I know, I understand and I can help.
The following quote from an article in the New York Times suggests productive ways to move through trauma-induced anxiety. It's no coincidence that this is also a step one for how we can start move again through chronic low back pain:
“So how do we learn? It is about small shifts in action and outlook. One critical step: Take meaningful action. “Ask yourself, what’s something I can do today, even if it’s small,” she said, “that reminds me that I am not helpless?”
In Retrain Back Pain®, we utilize many self-coping mechanisms (breath, mindfulness, therapeutic self-massage,) to bolster up our resilience. And...as always, when in doubt, we refer out to other professionals.
Yours in health, Dinneen