Is There a Relationship Between PTSD and Pain?

Chronic pain is a common side effect of PTSD. It originates from the effects of stress and trauma on the body and mind.

There is a substantial and intricate connection between chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both frequently make the other more intense.

Improving the overall quality of life for those managing chronic disorders requires comprehensive care that takes into account both the psychological and physical elements of these conditions.

Can PTSD cause chronic pain?

The physiological and psychological impacts of stress and trauma can lead to physical symptoms, including chronic pain, in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How common is PTSD among people with chronic pain?

Diagnoses of PTSD in patients with persistent pain vary greatly in frequency. According to a meta-analysis of 21 research, the average prevalence of PTSD in individuals with chronic pain ranges from 9.7% to 57%.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 15% and 35% of those who experience chronic pain also suffer from PTSD. As such, the precise percentage is unknown.

Additionally, studies show that it is more prevalent in clinical groups (11.7%) and particularly high in individuals with extensive pain (20.5%). However, the prevalence in non-clinical contexts is lower (5.1%).

However, the method used to measure it has an impact on the outcomes; self-reports reveal a larger prevalence (20.4%) than clinical interviews (4.5%). To fully understand the relationship between PTSD and chronic pain, further study is required as there is a great deal of diversity within studies.

How does PTSD affect pain?

Chronic pain can become much worse when a person has PTSD. Both increased physical intensity and psychological suffering, including anxiety and depression, are common in people with both illnesses.

Perhaps because of these psychological aspects, managing chronic pain may also be more difficult in cases of PTSD. People with PTSD may even have altered perceptions of and reactions to pain, which can exacerbate their pain experience.

The association between PTSD and persistent spine pain after accidents was investigated in a 2018 study. Individuals with co-occurring PTSD showed reduced tolerance and thresholds for temperature sensing, as well as increased psychological anguish and pain.

The researchers also discovered that when individuals who suffer from both PTSD and chronic pain experience increased discomfort, it's frequently because they catastrophize—that is, believe their pain is far worse than it is—and develop a fear of moving.

This corroborates the theory that these elements play a role in the pain-fear cycle experienced by those who have both illnesses.

According to a different 2018 study, individuals with post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and chronic pain reported higher levels of anxiety and despair, as well as more severe pain and pain-related impairment.

In addition, PTSS affected how patients with chronic pain related pain to other emotional and social aspects of their lives. This implies that PTSS may amplify or complicate the relationship between an individual's pain and their emotions and social interactions.

What’s the relationship between PTSD and pain thresholds?

The nature of the traumatic incident can influence the complex link between pain perception and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A study of studies conducted in 2020 revealed no discernible variations in the way individuals with and without PTSD perceived pain.

Still, differences did surface when examining particular categories of trauma. Individuals with PTSD connected to battle typically had higher pain thresholds, whereas those with PTSD related to accidents typically had lower pain thresholds.

What are common physical PTSD symptoms?

Typical physical signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:
  • Muscle tension: Muscle aches or pains are often the result of muscle tension in PTSD sufferers.
  • Pain and sensory changes: Some persons report tingling or numbness, as well as increased or decreased sensitivity to pain.
  • Headaches: Attacks of migraines or tension headaches are frequent.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: PTSD may cause gastrointestinal issues, including IBS.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: There may be palpitations, elevated blood pressure, and an accelerated heart rate.
  • Dizziness and fainting: A feeling of lightheadedness, fainting, or dizziness may strike certain persons.
  • Respiratory problems: There is a connection between PTSD and hyperventilation and dyspnea.
  • Skin issues: Eczema, rashes, or hives may appear or worsen.
  • Compromised immune function: PTSD may impair immunity, increasing a person's susceptibility to disease.

Treatment options for PTSD

You can manage PTSD with the assistance of several therapy options:
  • Psychotherapy: comprising group therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
  • Medications: includes prazosin (Minipress) and antidepressants (SSRIs or SNRIs).
  • Self-help strategies: such include practising mindfulness, deep breathing, exercising, and living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Supportive therapies: such as music therapy, art therapy, and therapy using animals.
  • Counseling and support groups: for coping mechanisms and emotional support.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies: including yoga, acupuncture, and equine therapy combined with scientifically supported therapies.

Bottom line

There is a complicated link between PTSD and persistent pain. Although there appears to be a significant correlation between the two, there is considerable variation in the prevalence of PTSD among those who experience chronic pain.

Effective care requires an understanding of how these illnesses are related to one another.

Whether you suffer from PTSD, chronic pain, or both, treating the mental and physical components of your condition is essential for symptom management and general quality of life enhancement.


Can PTSD be caused by pain?

The findings of this study have revealed a consistent association between PTSD and persistent pain. 

Can PTSD damage nerves?

The body's nerves may react to trauma in a way that can result in neuropathy, a separate type of persistent pain.

Is PTSD a permanent condition?

Without treatment, a person can have PTSD for years or the rest of his or her life.

Can PTSD get worse over time?

For some, PTSD symptoms may be worse in later years as they age.

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