Practical Bodywork Blog

The Roots of Chronic Pain

New research shows direct hormonal links between childhood trauma and adulthood disease:

There are two pieces of information that really provide the bridge to understand the connection between emotional trauma and adult disease, and the HPA axis is one of those pieces. The other is epigenetics. It starts with the hypothalamus in the brain, so that when we perceive any kind of threat to ourselves through the senses, through eyes or ears or nose or touch or whatever, that message comes into the brain and hits the hypothalamus. Then hypothalamus sends the message to the pituitary gland, which sits just below it, which in turn sends the message to the adrenal glands, which sit on top of each of the kidneys. This generates the flow of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. Adrenaline and cortisol are the hormones of stress. So there’s a connection between the hypothalamus, the pituitary, which is part of the endocrine system, and the adrenal gland, which is part of the immune system. That means that what happens to us emotionally affects our immune and endocrine functions.

When that happens early in life and chronically, it disregulates that whole system. “Trauma” means that stress is occurring over and over again chronically, so the HPA gets revved up and stays in the red zone. It upsets literally all of our physiology, activating the genetic proclivity we might have for whatever disease, setting the stage for it in the beginning, and oftentimes those systems don’t appear later in our lives until after our reproductive years. There is often a total disconnect between those diseases and its root in early chronic emotional trauma.

This is something I’ve suspected for years. I’ve noticed a strong correlation between my clients with chronic pain conditions–fibromyalgia, migraines, PTSD, anxiety, and vague neurological disorders such as primary lateral sclerosis(PLS)–and explicit or implicit childhood trauma. Often these clients have been further abused at the hands of a Western medical system which dismisses their pain and disability as ‘psychosomatic’ because doctors cannot pinpoint a specific cause.

As the linked article goes on to discuss, it is much harder to reverse this process than to prevent it. But that doesn’t mean there’s no way of addressing it in adulthood. The nervous system is plastic; if it is possible to mess it up through repeated stress, it is also possible to re-wire it. Bodywork is an excellent place to start. Massage therapy, craniosacral therapy, andnetwork spinal analysis all work directly and gently upon the nervous system to stimulate release of trauma and deep relaxation.

This is not a rapid process. Generally speaking, the more deeply rooted the trauma, the longer it takes to unwind. Our ‘silver bullet’ medical system tends to want to treat everything with surgery or a pill; nobody likes to hear that chronic conditions are, well, chronic. On the other hand, spending an hour or four a month on a massage table is a lot more enjoyable than pills or surgery. Isn’t that a piece of good news?