Chronic Pain & PTSD: The Silent Struggles


May 2, 2024

If you have ever experienced a distressing incident such as a fatal car accident, physical attack, losing a loved one, or being involved in combat, you may have encountered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide approximately 3.5% of adults in the United States suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)1. While it is well-known that PTSD can cause nightmares and flashbacks of traumatic events, its relationship with chronic pain is a complex and significant aspect worth exploring.2

Chronic pain is characterised by persistent pain that lasts for more than three months. It can stem from various factors, including injury, illness, and surgery.3

During this Awareness Month of PTSD, it is crucial to acknowledge and comprehend the intricate connection between chronic pain and PTSD. Traumatic events often lead to individuals with chronic pain developing PTSD, while those primarily diagnosed with PTSD commonly experience chronic pain as well. Thus, obtaining a more profound understanding of this co-occurring relationship becomes imperative for effectively addressing and treating both disorders.

In a study of volunteer firefighters, around 50% of those with PTSD said they had discomfort, especially in their backs, compared to about 20% of those without PTSD. Similar results were reported in two additional investigations, which discovered that 20% to 30% of people with PTSD had feelings of persistent and ongoing discomfort.4

How Chronic Pain Can Lead to PTSD

Living with chronic pain puts individuals at an increased risk of developing PTSD later in life. Chronic pain itself can be a profoundly traumatic experience, causing significant physical and emotional distress that disrupts one's ability to lead a normal life.

The symptoms of PTSD can develop gradually over time or suddenly after a particularly stressful event. Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Feeling anxious or on edge.
  • Experiencing difficulties sleeping.
  • Struggling with concentration.
  • Feeling depressed
  • Hopeless.
PTSD and chronic pain have a reciprocal relationship, where each can worsen the other and complicate their respective treatments. To effectively address both conditions, it is beneficial to conduct an initial interdisciplinary evaluation that examines medical and psychiatric issues, as well as psychological factors that contribute to both pain and PTSD. Successful management of chronic pain often requires a personalized, comprehensive approach that considers the patients' physical, emotional, and social needs, while actively involving them in the treatment process. Various methods such as acupuncture, physical therapy, talk therapy, and medication can be employed to alleviate pain and improve overall outcomes.5

If you are living with both PTSD and chronic pain, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Many individuals are facing similar challenges, and there are numerous resources available to support you.

Here are a few tips for living with PTSD and chronic pain:
  • Seek professional help
  • Take care of yourself
  • Connect with others
  • Reach out for support
If you are struggling with depression or experiencing a crisis, don't hesitate to seek immediate help. You can contact helplines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. 6

Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, and there are professionals and support networks available to assist you in your journey toward recovery.

"Breaking the silence - Revealing the Healing Power"