I have chronic pain from my injuries and I get frustrated with myself for not being as physically able as I once was. Are chronic pain and PSTD linked? If so, how can I help break the cycle of each of these affecting the other?
There is some evidence that the biological risk for both PTSD and pain may have some of the same genetic predictors. Regardless of whether they may start with the same risk, we know that these problems often co-occur and we know that when they co-occur each problem can negatively impact the other. PTSD often worsens chronic pain AND chronic pain worsens PTSD. One way they interact is that the experience of pain can lead to thoughts about the trauma, especially if the pain is related to an injury associated with that person's PTSD. In the other direction, when a person with PTSD is highly anxious and holding tension in their body and muscles it can irritate areas that have chronic pain and make the pain feel more severe. The good news is that research shows that when PTSD and pain co-occur, treating the PTSD with Prolonged Exposure Therapy can result in lower reported pain even without specific pain intervention.
Sheila A.M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP, is the Deputy Director of the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program and Director of Mental Health Research and Program Evaluation at the VA Atlanta Healthcare System. Dr. Rauch has been developing programs, conducting research and providing PTSD and Anxiety Disorders treatment for over 20 years. Her research focuses on examination of mechanisms involved in the development and treatment of PTSD and improving access to effective interventions.