The Connection Between Pain & PTSD

While the notion of PTSD has been with us for generations, it’s gained prominence as a national health concern over the past two decades.

Once called “shell shock” or “combat fatigue,” it was originally thought of as an affliction exclusive to those in the military. With VA statistics showing that up to 20% of Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the effects of PTSD, that’s certainly still true today.

However, our consideration of PTSD has also evolved to include those who have gone through other traumatic experiences – like a car accident or natural disaster. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD affects 8 million US adults every year. In fact, experts say:

  • 67% of people exposed to violence have been shown to develop PTSD

  • 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment

  • PTSD can develop at any age, even in childhood

  • Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD

PTSD’s Link to Pain is Real

The symptoms of PTSD can vary widely, and often include anxiety, depression and agitation. But studies show that pain is also commonly reported in people suffering from PTSD. According to one expert, this is true regardless of whether the trauma stems from an accident, an assault or a combat injury.

In fact, 28% of patients involved in a study with the University of Kansas who reported a history of chronic pain screened positive for PTSD symptoms – which is considerably higher than the general population statistic of 7%. These patients also reported higher levels of pain intensity than those who screened negative for PTSD symptoms.

Further, military statistics show that only 2% of those who have PTSD do not have chronic pain. This is according to CESAMH, the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health, which is part of the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

The physical links between PTSD and pain can be obvious – as many traumatic events can cause severe pain. Yet these links can also be subtle, stemming from the muscle tension and fatigue caused by being stressed and agitated on a constant basis. Sadly, Veterans with chronic pain say that pain often interferes with their ability to engage in social and recreational activities, which can compound existing mental decline and physical deconditioning – leading to a vicious cycle of increased pain and compromised health.

Ways to Combat PTSD & Pain

For anyone experiencing the debilitating duo of PTSD and chronic pain, seeking the advice of a trusted healthcare provider is the first step to gaining some relief. Several questions to consider asking him or her are:

  • Is there a non-drug therapy – like psychotherapy or counseling – that can help with my PTSD?

  • Are there non-drug alternatives – like yoga, acupuncture or electrotherapy – that might help my chronic pain?

  • Is there medication can that help with my symptoms?

For some, combating chronic pain can have real, life-changing benefits. Details of this are revealed in the post-treatment patient-centered outcome assessments conducted with RS Medical patients 30 and 60 days after treatment begins with an RS-4i Plus.

Based on over 9,100 responses from 2015 until now, patients say that electrotherapy with the RS-4i Plus decreases their level of pain by an average of 46% – reducing it from a 7.3 (on a scale of 1-10) down to a 3.9. Additional improvements that correspond with that decrease in pain are a 35% reduction in stress, a 37% improvement in mood and a 37% reduction in pain interfering with sleep.

Experts also suggest making lifestyle adjustments that may help offset some of the impacts of PTSD. Those include:

  • Finding a trusted person (family member, spouse, counselor, fellow Veteran) to confide in

  • Spending time with others who can relate to your situation

  • Letting those close to you know what situations may trigger symptoms

  • Keeping stress in check by breaking tasks down into smaller steps

  • Keeping a regular exercise routine

  • Practicing relaxation techniques or mindfulness (in fact, the VA now offers a free mindfulness app)

Have you already spoken to your healthcare provider about PTSD and pain? If so, feel free to add your questions or comments.

Related Resources

Blog: Painsomnia & Consequences for Long-Term Sleep Loss
Blog: Gary, Retired Veteran, Gets His Active Lifestyle Back

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare professional.