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The Connection Between PTSD and Pain

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Updated January 29, 2012

PTSD and pain have been found to commonly co-occur. People with PTSD have been found to be at a higher risk for a number of mental and physical health problems. For example, having PTSD is linked to problems with depression, dissociation and substance use as well as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In addition to these problems, people with PTSD are more likely than those without PTSD to experience problems with pain.

PTSD and Pain

Studies have found that pain is one of the most regularly reported physical problem reported by people with PTSD — no matter what type of traumatic event was experienced (motor vehicle accident, physical assault or combat). People with PTSD are also more likely to report disability due to the experience of pain.

For example, one study of volunteer firefighters with PTSD found that approximately 50% were experiencing pain (mostly in the form of back pain) as compared with only about 20% of firefighters without PTSD. Two other studies found that 20 to 30% of patients with PTSD experience frequent and persistent pain symptoms.

It has also been found that many patients with chronic pain problems have PTSD. Anywhere between 10 to 50% of people getting treatment for chronic pain have PTSD. These rates of PTSD are higher than what is found among people in general.

Why Do PTSD and Pain Commonly Co-Occur?

First, many traumatic events may lead to the experience of pain. For example, a natural disaster, physical assault, sexual assault, motor vehicle accident or combat may all lead to serious injuries that could cause chronic pain. In addition, the more severe a traumatic event, the more likely it is that a person will experience some kind of physical injury as well as developing PTSD.

Second, certain symptoms of PTSD may lead to the experience of pain. For example, hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD may cause frequent muscle tension that could result in chronic pain.

Finally, other disorders that commonly co-occur with PTSD may also contribute to the development of pain. Depression, which frequently is experienced by people with PTSD, may cause a person to avoid or limit physical activities, resulting in disability and poorer health which eventually increases the likelihood of problems with pain.

The Importance of Treatment

If you have PTSD and pain, it is very important to seek out treatment. Given that PTSD symptoms may give rise to pain, getting treatment for those symptoms may help reduce pain. If you are in need of PTSD treatment, you can find PTSD treatment providers in your area through UCompare HealthCare from About.com, as well as the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

In addition, if a person is experiencing pain as a result of some kind of traumatic event, the experience of pain may also trigger PTSD symptoms, such as memories or thoughts about the traumatic event. Therefore, treatment for your pain is also important. You can find out more information about the treatment of pain from Anne Asher, About.com Guide to Back and Neck Pain.

Sources:

Asmundson, G.J.G., Coons, M.J., Taylor, S., & Katz, J. (2002). PTSD and the experience of pain: Research and clinical implications of shared vulnerability and mutual maintenance models. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47, 930-937.

Roth, R.S., Geisser, M.E., & Bates, R. (2008). The relation of posttraumatic stress symptoms to depression and pain in patients with accident-related chronic pain. The Journal of Pain, 9, 588-596.

Sharp, T.J., & Harvey, A.G. (2001). Chronic pain and posttraumatic stress disorder: Mutual maintenance? Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 857-877.

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