Like many people, I have lived through a traumatic experience. I always knew that trauma affected a person's mental state; I felt my anxiety worsen, my sadness become more debilitating, and I was, eventually, clinically diagnosed with PTSD, an anxiety disorder, and depression. What I didn't know was that trauma could have a profound impact on the physical body as well.
It seemed that the doctors I spoke with were not considering that what was happening to my physical body could be related to what was happening to me psychologically, and that was a very frustrating feeling. Doctors prescribed me strong ibuprofen, but no one ever suggested that my pain could be related to trauma, or that I could heal the pain with a plant-based diet.
To first gain some insight on the relationship between chronic pain and trauma, and what help those with chronic pain can find, Assuaged spoke with Dr. Evan Parks, a Clinical Psychologist at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI.
According to Dr. Parks, trauma and chronic pain are definitely connected. “When people have a long history of chronic pain, it's not uncommon for there to be significant history of four or more what we call 'adverse childhood events' that have occurred in a person's life," Parks says. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. They range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian.
While these ACEs can be behind chronic pain, so can PTSD. According to an article in the Journal of Pain Research, "Posttraumatic stress symptoms are highly prevalent in chronic pain patients and may affect pain symptomatology negatively."
People who are suffering from chronic pain and have experienced trauma can either go to a clinic, such as Dr. Parks', which helps by giving physical and occupational therapy to heal the chronic pain.
Another option that many doctors recommend is to change your diet.
Dr. William Welches, DO, PhD., told the Cleveland Clinic in a recent article, “‘There are many ways to treat and manage chronic pain. One of the most exciting approaches, however — because it is all natural — is adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. The other options for pain don’t always work. Many patients don’t benefit from neural (nerve) blocks, and medication therapy often leads to undesired side effects.”
And, according to a news release by the Physicians Committee, a plant-based diet can help with chronic pain. The best types of foods to help with chronic pain are grapes, ginger, turmeric, soy and caffeine.
A new study by Frontiers in Nutrition also found that chronic types of pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are worsened by dairy and meat products. In their study, it showed that “diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber are associated with lower BMI, have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce pain and inflammation in these patients.”
If you are struggling with chronic pain and can’t seem to find the source, consider talking to your doctor about past traumas that may be linked to it. Also, be sure that when discussing your plan for healing, you talk with a nutritionist, because plant-based may be the way to go.
Find out about Dr. Park’s podcast and clinic here.
Find out more about the link between diet and pain here.
Child Trends. (2019). Adverse experiences.
Ravn, S. L., Vaegter, H. B., Cardel, T., & Andersen, T. E. (2018). The role of posttraumatic stress symptoms on chronic pain outcomes in chronic pain patients referred to rehabilitation. Journal of Pain Research, Volume 11, 527–536. doi: 10.2147/jpr.s155241