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Trauma and Your Body Part 1/4 | Cultivate Chiropractic

Trauma doesn’t just exist in our brains, it has a very real presence in our bodies as well. In this article, the first in a four-part series, we’re exploring what trauma is and how it impacts us.

Trauma and Your Body

“Trauma” is something you might have been hearing a lot about lately, and with good reason. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not a new phenomenon, but as we learn more about the body and brain connection, we’ve been able to expand our understanding of trauma's long-term effects on our lives. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD, you may still be struggling with the lasting effects of trauma.

What is trauma?

According to SAMSHA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), “Trauma is an emotional or physical response to one or more harmful or life-threatening events or circumstances with lasting adverse effects on your mental and physical well-being.” Trauma could be the result of an accident, a frightening or stressful incident, or a series of ongoing events that leave a lasting impact on our lives. There are no requirements or classifications for what would qualify an event as traumatic, as it is a highly personal experience. What may be a traumatic event to one person could be less impactful to another person.

Trauma and the brain

Our brains are incredible machines! They process information in an instant, control our bodily functions, and store our memories. When a traumatic event occurs, it can change the way our brains function, leaving a lasting impact. A change in our brains can mean a change in the way we think, behave, react, and function at a base level.

According to Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist, researcher, and author, “Trauma comes back as a reaction, not a memory.” This is because traumatic memories are not stored in the same way as our normal, non-triggering memories. Our normal memories are stored in the hippocampus: the part of our brains responsible for learning and emotions. These memories are filed away and stored for us to access at a later time. Traumatic memories are also stored in the hippocampus, but because they’re unable to be processed correctly, the amygdala takes over and tries to sort it out. The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for decision-making and the activation of fight-or-flight, which is why when traumatic memories are accessed, we often feel the same physiological symptoms we might feel when we’re in a panic or stressful situation.

Trauma and our bodies

This is where our bodies come into the equation, and how trauma extends itself past a mental or emotional effect. Although trauma itself may not physically reside in our bodies, the way our bodies react to traumatic memories can create physical changes. Often these reactions result in lingering ailments that can hang around for decades if unresolved.

Fight or flight

If you’ve survived a traumatic experience but struggle to move past it, you may experience some physical symptoms any time that traumatic memory is activated. These traumatic memories may activate your fight or flight reaction, which could feel like any of the following:

●     Increased heart rate

●     Sweating palms

●     nausea

●     dizziness

●     Tensed muscles

●     increased breathing

Although there may be no danger present, your body doesn’t know that. It is reacting to a danger that only exists in your brain.

Suggested resources

Next month, we’ll be sharing part two in our series about trauma and your body. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more, we recommend reading:

●     The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

●     It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn

●     What My Bones Know: a Memoir of Healing From Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo

●     Unbroken: The Trauma Response is Never Wrong by Mary Catherine McDonald

If you suspect that past traumatic events are holding you back or impacting your life, we want you to know that there is hope. Learning more about trauma and its repercussions is a solid first step toward healing.

We believe in a whole-body approach to wellness and are dedicated to providing the best care for you and your family. Chiropractic care is just one part of that puzzle, and we have a vast array of other health resources and services to offer. Call us today at 402-372-0166 or visit us online at to learn more.


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