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The Body, The Brain; Trauma and Chronic Pain

It can be said with some confidence that the brain and body are connected. Within a single second about 100 billion neurons are firing off 5-50 action potentials. Signals that allow us to process our surroundings, maintain spacial awareness, keep us balanced and help prevent us from harm.

When we experience a traumatic event it affects three main components.

The amygdala: aka "the lizard brain" which is the instinctual and emotional response center.

The hippocampus: responsible for controlling memory and distingusihing past from present.

The prefrontal cortex: responsible for regulating emotions and impusles.

When that same trauma response is triggered, the amygdala goes into overdrive as if we were experiencing the trauma for the first time. The prefrontal cortex will become suppressed, taking away the ability to regulate emotions; all while the trauma response decreased the activity of the hippocampus which causes us to be less able to distinguish that this is a past trauma and not a current experience. The brain perceives that this trigger as an immediate threat itself.

The neuropathways that form when trauma occurs are instinctual and protective, it is how we have survived as a species, as our brain continues to teach us to avoid harm. However, after a trauma, followed by reoccurring triggers, this can cause our brains to remain in a constant state of hypervigilance, trapping us in a state of fear, pain and emotional reactivity.

When the amygdala senses a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system (that fun fight/flight/freeze response) by sending signals to the adrenal glands that pump hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and later, cortisol into the bloodstream.

When these hormones are released:

Heart rate and blood pressure increase

This redirects your blood flow to your center from your extremities

Pain response is compromised and blunted

Senses are heightened

Memories are altered

Muscles are tense or trembling

When we are triggered the body reacts the same as during a new threat/trauma; in the moment the body tries to prioritize what is required for immediate survival, even though we are "safe". Once this pathway is formed from an initial trauma, it can be easily repeated when triggered. This perpetual cycle leads to nervous system overactivity.

This means all those physiological responses listed above remain in an overactive state. In areas where constant sustained tensions are being held pain begins. Trigger points in muscles, tendinopathies, inflammation, joint pain, nerve pain and headaches are just some of the issues that can occur. Eventually there will come a day we notice we've been in pain for some time and it never goes away. Chronic pain leads to central sensitization, causing the nervous system (once again) to be on constant high alert. Which of course sends out additional pain/fear messages in response to perceived threats. Because that is so helpful.

Once this cycle begins it can feel impossible to break.

The cycle can look something like this:

Trauma occurs, brain and body create neural pathways to protect us

Trigger event occurs reactivates neural pathway from original trauma

Trigger reactivation reinforces pathway creating constant state of hypervigilance

Constant hypervigilance creates pain (muscle tension, joint pain, nerve pain, inflammation)

Pain triggers stress and fear

Stress and fear trigger the trauma response

and the cycle repeats.

Well isn't that eggcellent. Now what?

We have to break the cycle.

Treatment options can include but are not limited to:

CBT-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The world is crazy, almost all of us have experienced some spectrum of trauma. We all need that unbiased person in our life to guide us through making decisions that reinforce behavior changes that will form new neural pathways. Every human can benefit from therapy.

Yoga: Helps to reduce pain perception through breathing techniques as well and reduce pain perception and improve mobility.

Massage: Consistent and appropriate treatment can help facilitate muscle relaxation and improve over active pain responses.

CBD/THC: Clinical evidence strongly supports that CBD is an effective treatment for GAD, OCD, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and PTSD. Additionally CBD along with TCH has been shown to be an effective pain reliever for various chronic pain conditions.

Chiropractic Care:

Wait, how does back "cracking" help with trauma and pain?

Chiropractors are trained in pain management techniques and work strictly in regards to finding and correcting musculoskeletal imbalances from chronic muscle tension. It can improve posture, mobility and regulate nervous system responses. Specifically cervical adjustments have been show to directly impact and calm overactive sympathetic responses. Chiropractors are also trained and board certified in physiotherapy, which includes therapeutic exercises, assisted stretching, manual therapies as well as nutritional counseling to ensure the body is getting enough of what it needs to facilitate good rest, optimum gut health and muscle healing. Additionally, mindfulness practices and breathing techniques used during chiropractic care also assist in helping to reduce stress and regulate the nervous system.

Creating new brain pathways, working through trauma and managing chronic pain takes time and consistency. You also have to create your care team and find the tools that are most effective for you. We all have different needs and respond to care uniquely. Don't forget to always advocate for yourself, you truly know your body better than anyone else (even though your brain may occasionally lie to you).

You are worth it and deserve to feel like your best self.

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