Understanding Trauma and Injury

What is trauma?

The term trauma may bring to mind a debilitating injury or an emotional condition like PTSD, it also encompasses smaller injuries like paper cuts and stubbing a toe. Trauma is defined as:

  • The subjective individual experience related to a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity. (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p. 60)
  • An overload of the nervous system, where it can’t integrate and make sense of all the information coming in, so the body adjusts to protect itself. The individual may feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically overwhelmed.

Trauma is a spectrum, not a simple on/off state, that can encompass one’s physical, emotional, and mental capabilities. Everyone experiences trauma differently; the same event can elicit very different reactions in people because of their life experiences.

Examples of trauma include:

  • Physical trauma: stubbing a toe, getting a cut, breaking a bone, getting a bruise, etc.
  • Emotional trauma: neglect, enmeshment, breaking up with a partner, volatile situations, etc.
  • Will/Power trauma: abuses of power, domination of will, shaming, etc.
  • Connection/Relational trauma: betrayal, death of a loved one, unacknowledged grief, abuse from a partner, etc.
  • Communication/Creativity trauma: excessive criticism, verbal abuse, stifled expression, lies, coercion, etc.
  • Perceptional trauma: gas lighting, growing up in a frightening environment (war/violence), denial of intuition, etc.
  • Belief trauma: forced religiosity, invalidation of one’s beliefs, spiritual abuse, etc.

How does trauma affect you physically?

Trauma stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). After experiencing trauma the body has a natural process for letting it go through shaking, heavy breathing, etc. If this doesn’t happen, then our nervous system will stay in fight or flight in order to protect us. This may result in increased heart rate, muscles holding tension (decreasing blood flow and oxygen intake), shallow breathing, decreased immune response, holding patterns in muscles creating scar tissue. We may experience this as stress, hyper vigilance, general discomfort in our bodies.

How can you heal trauma?

The first step is to recognize that you’ve experienced trauma. Maybe you remember a physical injury and you feel pain in your shoulder when you move your arm. Maybe you you notice that you don’t feel an area of your body as well as others. Maybe you notice that you get confused in certain social situations. These can all be signs of trauma.

Secondly, ask for help. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Talk to a health professional, a doctor, a psychologist, a physical therapist, acupuncturist, a chiropractor, etc. Humans are inherently social and getting advice outside of ourselves is important. Each of these professions is looking to help you and focus on specific perspectives to help you heal. Everything helps, you may need to keep trying different professionals and styles of therapies until you find practices that work for you. It is a very individual process and there is no one size fits all.

Does that sound overwhelming? Well, there is hope!

How is massage helpful in healing trauma?

My experience has shown me that regardless of the cause or style of trauma, there is some physical expression of the trauma in our bodies. After a breakup our chest might be collapsed, after being verbally abused we might protect our neck by looking down, after being forced to do something we don’t want to we might feel unspeakable rage bubbling in our bellies or solar plexus.

A primary benefit of massage is calming the nervous system. Intentional touch from massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which naturally decreases the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight). Physiological responses to massage are deeper breathing, decreased heart rate, vasodilation, and increased oxygen absorption in the body. We may experience this as feeling more open, feeling lighter, a greater sense of balance in the body, less reactionary to stress, and feeling more ease in movement.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is provided “as is” for general information only. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are familiar with your individual medical or mental health needs.