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PTSD Symptoms: Body armor

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Chronic muscle tension is one of the many aggravating symptoms of PTSD. Photo Credit: Photostock/freedigitalimages.net

Did you know the body stores memories? Most people think memories are only stored in our mind, but that’s not true. The body remembers what the mind chooses to forget. Sometimes people’s muscles get “locked tight” from holding stress inside or trying to “forget” unpleasant memories.

The term body armor describes one way survivors cope with PTSD symptoms. It starts in the brain, which sends signals beyond our conscious awareness to the muscles, creating chronic holding patterns in the posture and tissues of the body.

How does this happen? A traumatic event causes the body to contract its muscles and harden to shield the inner self. Just think back to the last time something frightened you or someone treated you harshly. Do you remember your shoulders and neck tightening in response?

If the trauma is substantial enough, the brain will continue to send messages to the muscles, which will be reluctant to release their grip in an effort to protect you from “what’s about to happen,” even if “what’s about to happen” already happened years ago.

Another explanation for body armor? The Herculean effort you are making to contain how out of control you feel or to resist memories from the past has created a cycle of tension that’s hard to break without professional help.

Nancy Presser is my massage therapist and yoga instructor who now lives in California. She says, “When I encounter a person on my massage table with a lot of body armor, the first thing I ask them is, ‘Do you drink enough water?’” Surprisingly, drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day is a great start toward loosening the hold tension has on your muscles. “If I can get a client to drink water, then more space is created between the cells of their muscle tissue. That’s the focus of massage, to manually manipulate the muscles to create more space, blood flow and oxygen,” comments Nancy.

Energy and blood flow in your body can’t circulate freely through areas of tension. One bad side effect is your body may shut down those areas, causing physical ailments and emotional imbalances. A Tacoma mother whose adult daughter was molested as a child shares via email, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be.”

Physical symptoms and emotional turmoil are the body’s way of responding to unresolved issues and events. If the tension and emotional residue left by the traumatic event are not dealt with together, symptoms can go on for years. Massage, as well as, acupressure and chiropractic adjustments can really help to loosen up those muscles and get you on the path toward emotional healing.

Nancy points out, “knowingly or unknowingly, when we allow chronic muscle tension, we are keeping the memories associated with that tension from flowing freely through us. By unlocking the tension, you also release the emotional memories stored within the cells. Depending on what a client wants to accomplish, I can help them release those memories.”

Remember, it all begins with the brain. Massage therapy alone won’t take you very far toward walking away from PTSD forever. That’s why you need a Healing Team! Recognizing your own tendency toward body armor and watching Dr. Phil’s explanation on the show The Doctors can help you understand the powerful connection between body and mind.

The next step? Find a licensed massage therapist to add to your PTSD Healing Team! Here’s how to find a great one: PTSD Self-help: Choosing a Massage Therapist (available tomorrow!)

Do you struggle with chronic muscle tension and mysterious physical ailments? Tell us about your PTSD struggle and what you’ve done to seek relief or ask a question. Others, like you, who read this article want to know they’re not alone in their struggle to overcome PTSD.

Join us on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles on how to recruit each member of your Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

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7 responses »

  1. Pingback: PTSD Self-help: Choosing a massage therapist, part II « PTSD Relief

  2. Admirable! You presented this subject matter with great sensitivity and caring, traits not seen in too many sites today.

    Reply
  3. Thank you. This explains it all.

    Reply
  4. The trauma from my PTSD is stuck in my back and shoulders I have been battling for a year and I am literally stuck in the position I was in when my anxiety was out of control for months. This reactivated a past trauma but my body will not let it go. My shoulders still twitch and jerk as if the brain has got stuck sending messages from before and my body is always confrontational. If someone walks close my back contracts or muscles balloon, my left shoulder won’t relax down as it’s always up ready for action and my right side still holds the memory where I held it tight … I cannot lead a normal life and feel I am literally waiting for it to end and release me from this physical trap 😦 very sad I know but it is debilitating. I will try the massage and water and hope this helps along with the emdr!!

    Reply
    • Oh, my…that must be awful! Please know that with a holistic approach – one that addresses physical, mental and emotional symptoms simultaneously – you’ll be able to find that peaceful, healthy and whole life you so deserve. It sounds like you’re heading in the right direction! I’ll be sending you a private email, so if I can help in any way, you’ll let me know? Peace, Annmarie

      Reply

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