Childhood Trauma: Your Body Can Bear the Burden

The Body Bears the Burden is the title of neurologist Dr. Robert C. Scaer’s book about trauma and chronic pain. For 20 years Dr. Scaer was the director of a multi-disciplinary programme for treating chronic pain. Physicians referred patients they were unable to help to his service. Many who were on huge doses of narcotics were still in pain despite the medication.

A number of factors caused Dr. Scaer to be curious.

With whiplash, for example, almost any treatment worked for a while, but the pain always came back. Why was this? Dr. Scaer went looking for some answers.

Among the findings he discovered that 60% of the chronic pain patients had suffered child abuse. 30% were diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

Dr. Scaer concluded that whiplash, myofascial neck and back pain, vertigo, labile blood pressure, temperomandibular headaches, low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and migraine could be considered “dissociative capsules.”

That is, they were the result of physically held psychological trauma.

Dr. Scaer who spends his time writing and lecturing on the connection between psychological trauma and pain these days says:

If one accepts this premise, then many of the most common causes for visits to physicians’ offices in fact represent the somatic symptoms generated by the autonomic and somatic procedural memories within cumulative dissociative capsules.”

The implications of this are profound. What does it mean for trauma therapists? What does it mean for those of us who have suffered chronic pain that went away when we dealt with our traumatic histories? What might it mean for our health care systems?

What do you know about this subject? Your comments below would be most welcome.


  1. It makes sense evolutionarily that if simple pain was not a sufficient defense to protect you from becoming injured, it may be evolutionarily advantageous to permanently activate the pain so that you continuously protect the vulnerable body part.

    I just read a pilot study showing that a technique called EMDR that desensitizes traumatic memories is successful in treating phantom limb pain. Here it is clear that the neurobiological substrate of the limb pain doesn’t reside in the limb because the limb has been removed. So it may be true of other chronic pain cases that the neurobiolical locale of the pain is the brain rather than body, but this general phenomenon is only be discernable in the case of amputees. Interestingly, many of the people with phantom limb pain who responded to EMDR only responded after the memory of the most recent limb trauma PLUS memories of childhood traumas were targeted and desensitized in the therapy.

    Its fascinating to think that chronic pain may often be a due to traumatic memories. I think this makes evolutionary, biological and clinical sense, and as you say has tremendous therapeutic implications.

    It’s going to be the responsibility of the trauma therapists to confirm this possibility and get the word out to physicians and the public so that chronic pain patients get referred to trauma therapy rather than becoming addicted to narcotics which is a serious risk of medical treatment.

  2. könntest says:

    I love reading through a post that can make men and women think.
    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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