Repetitive Trauma Syndrome: The Snowball Effect

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

August 17th, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

I saw the phrase “repetitive trauma syndrome” in a physical therapist’s office several years back. “That’s it!” I exclaimed internally. “That’s what I have!” Quite simply, my body had been whacked around a lot, in different ways and in different places, and my nervous system was jacked the hell up. I knew it, but I had never seen a name put to it.

As I recall, the description of this syndrome was exactly what it sounded like to me and exactly what I had endured, at least on the physical level. But right now, I looked up the phrase on the internet and was disappointed to see it described as something akin to repetitive strain injury – ie, injury from doing the same motion repeatedly. I’m going to call the physical therapy office where I saw the “repetitive trauma syndrome” brochure and see exactly what it said.

Meanwhile I’m putting out there my own definition of “repetitive trauma syndrome,” as based on my own personal experience with repetitive trauma:

1.  The more we are injured, the more our bodies develop a baseline instability.

 The more our bodies are unstable, the more prone we are to injury. And so a vicious cycle is created, where we are desperately in need of optimal healing conditions that either do not exist or that are out of our reach for whatever reason. If and when we access those optimal conditions, we immediately begin to heal. In other words, our bodies just need the safety and space to rest and reboot themselves.

Usually the reasons we don’t access those optimal conditions are 1) lack of access to superior health care because of life- and wallet-depleting health insurance plans and a host of other social ills, 2) the general tendency for doctors and bodyworkers to be so self-absorbed in being “the healer” or the go-to person with the proscribed method, that they cannot truly listen and respond to their clients’ needs and responsively adapt given methods to those clients’ needs, and 3) the dependency on complicated solutions — overlooking, minimizing, or altogether dismissing the simple solutions, which in fact may be the solutions. 

2.   Along with trauma comes fear of trauma, anticipation of trauma, and the proactive avoidance of trauma.

If a doctor has aggressively touched my body instead of gently touching it, and if his doing so has caused me injury, I will not be able to trust the next doctor’s touch. If I then speak up to create safety for myself before being touched – ie, if I ask a doctor to touch me gently, but that doctor steamrolls over, altogether ignores, or ridicules my request, I will then have another layer of trauma – namely, fear of doctors.

 3.   The impact of trauma is unrecognized and mislabeled, so our self-protective measures are seen as the cause of our problems.

If my fear and mistrust of doctors is then misunderstood and diagnosed instead as belligerence, troublemaking, a victim mentality, or a blaming tendency, and if I am then treated as a “difficult” patient or if my pain and suffering is then called my own damn fault, yet another layer of trauma will be added – creating an increasing sense of being unsafe, and therefore, an increasing reality of isolation.

4.   Repetitive trauma is treated with judgment, as a character defect, instead of with compassion, as a simple fact.

Add to this mix the tendency for doctors, bodyworkers, friends, and random strangers to get pseudo-spiritual on people who have experienced repetitive trauma – especially in the alternative health circles — and you’ve got yet another layer of trauma: When you’re busy recovering from the primary trauma and needing every resource to help you in that recovery, you’re instead being told that you are somehow responsible for that trauma – by inviting it into your energy field for some grand universal lesson, for example, or by having been a wicked person in another life. Suddenly you’re being faced with blame, instead of compassion. Yet another reason to be fearful and mistrusting and to isolate.

Instability creates instability creates instability. In other words, the more trauma we experience, the more trauma we experience. In an upcoming post, I will address how to stop the vicious cycle of Repetitive Trauma Syndrome (as yours truly defines it) – both for those experiencing it and for those treating someone who has it.

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