Trauma and Chronic Pain

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There are several risk factors that have been identified which contribute to the development of a chronic pain condition including psychological trauma. Patients who experience psychological trauma and abuse during childhood have greater risks of developing chronic pain in adulthood. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other psychiatric disorders are co-morbid with chronic pain. Symptoms of PTSD are more commonly reported by patients with chronic pain when compared to patients who are experiencing episodic pain.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after exposure to an extreme stressor or event in which the individual feels helplessness and often experiences an intense fear of pending physical harm or death.

After experiencing this stressful event, it is common for individuals to re-experience the event later in life. Increased arousal, emotional numbing, and avoidance of stimuli associated with the event are often part of this experience.

The physical body retains and internalizes these re-experiencing events and increases an individual’s vulnerability to experiencing a chronic pain condition later in life.

This is especially true for women who are, more likely than men, the victims of sexual abuse and assault. Many women with pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and chronic migraine report experiencing trauma at some stage of their lives.

The emotional toll that a traumatic event takes on us is often self-evident and often presents as depression, anxiety, and the inability to regulate emotions. Physical effects such as muscle tension and inflammation may appear immediately after the traumatic event or may emerge later when triggered by stress.

Physical effects of trauma may also include overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, sleep disturbances, physical numbing, and hyperarousal.

Psychological therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises have proven to be helpful to alleviate the symptoms associated with both trauma and chronic pain. Multidimensional and interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate mental health care can be highly effective in treating these co-morbid conditions and successful treatment that alleviates suffering and provides relief from both physical and mental symptoms.


Dr. Andrew Beatty is a licensed clinical psychologist with over a decade of experience assisting adults and adolescents with life, work, and health-related issues. He specializes in the field of health psychology with an emphasis on the management of chronic pain and illness. Dr. Beatty can be reached by telephone at 630.718.0717 ext. 208 or email at For immediate assistance to schedule an appointment, please connect with one of our Client Care Specialists at 630.718.0717, ext. 240.