Unraveling the Link Between Emotions and Physical Pain

When is physical pain not a structural issue? When it is an emotional one.

It is more than likely that you have experienced the link for yourself between emotions and physical pain, but you may not have realised it. Ever had a “butterflies in your stomach” feeling when nervous? Or perhaps you’ve felt a headache coming on during a stressful day? You’re not alone! Emotions and physical pain are like secret pen pals, constantly exchanging messages. Whilst most people used to look to physical structures for the source of their physical pain, thereare more and more studies and texts supporting the link between physical pain and emotions.

I first came across the concept in Dr Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. In this influential work, Dr. van der Kolk explores the profound connection between traumatic experiences, emotions, and physical health. The book delves into how trauma can become embedded in the body, affecting everything from chronic pain to mental health. Emotional stress, sat in the body’s tissues can lead to physiological changes in the the body’s functions and eventually show up as physical pain in the brain’s attempt to bring attention to the dis-ease in the body.

The concept of emotions, meridian lines, and pain is often associated with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and practices such as acupuncture and acupressure. TCM recognizes seven primary emotions: joy, anger, sadness, grief, fear, surprise, and worry. Each of these emotions is associated with specific organ systems and meridian lines in the body.

Meridians are energy channels or pathways in the body through which Qi (pronounced “chee”), the vital energy, flows. TCM describes twelve main meridians that are connected to specific organ systems. Each meridian has a corresponding organ, and they form a network that helps maintain the body’s balance and health. These meridians are often used in acupuncture and acupressure to stimulate or balance the flow of Qi, thereby addressing various physical and emotional issues.

According to TCM theory, pain and illness can result from blockages or imbalances in the flow of Qi through the meridian lines. When there is an obstruction or an imbalance, it can lead to pain, discomfort, or disease in the associated organ or area of the body. Acupuncture and acupressure techniques are used to stimulate specific points along the meridians to restore the proper flow of Qi, alleviate pain, and promote overall well-being.

A Personal Case Study

My arm pain flared up last week and floored me. It is an old friend that has been with me for about 10 years since a nasty fall onto my right hip when I tripped and landed on the metal frame of my front door, trying to stop the door slamming shut near my 2 year old daughter as a draft caught it. 

I have had less and less flares with my arm in recent years and usually get back in control of it fairly quickly since I found the root cause of it. You see, I never actually ‘hurt’ my left arm although I’m sure it got a part of thr whiplash of the mechanisim when I fell and hit my hip. It does however work with my right hip during gait (walking mechanics) so more than likely picked up the slack of the recovering right hip (which, by the way, was text book bruising!!) However, I have cleared the gait patterns so the two limbs share the workload, so the flare ups don’t come from there. They actually come from an emotional response connected to the fall itself. 

When the original accident occured, my 2 year old daughter was nearly clobbered by the door as it was swinging shut. I went into full Mama Lion mode of trying to protect her. In the aftermath, as I dragged mysefl over the threshold, and sobbed in the hallway, unable to get up, I clearly remember feeling alone, without support as my husband was on tour, abroad.

Last week was my husband’s last week at home before going on tour in the US for 3 months. Having had him home for a really lovely 6 weeks, and amid a time were our daughter is extending her distance from us into the realms of discovering her 12 year old self, the loneliness, grief of losing him and the support he brings being here, alonside grieving losing my daughter’s former cute self, all flooded back and along with it a massive flare in the arm from shoulder blade to hand. 

Interestingly there are two meridian lines of energy that run along the arm line – the heart and lung merdians. One is linked to matters of heart, the other, is linked to grief. There were definitley many elements of both going on last week!!! 

Luckily I  know how to do the energy work to release and process these emotions and literally the day after he left, everything settled back down again. Now I have a little soft tissue work to do to help calm the tension in the muscles, caused by the outburst, but had I tried to do that first, as I used to, it would have flared up more, because I wasn’t actually dealing with the thing that was causing it in the first place.  

Emotional work is an ongoing thing. It is a case of noticing when something is coming up and helping your body process it. It may present as anxiety, a tummy ache, an increased heart rate or physicall pain in a limb or other body part. The important thing is to recognise when something has literally come up out of nowhere. Allowing your body time to process emotions is one thing, noticing them in the first place is another!

Are emotions the missing link to your pain puzzle?

Do you have unresolved pain that keeps periodically coming back? Have you looked at things from a structural context and still not found the missing piece to your pain puzzle?

If you would like help reducing pain that you believe might be casued by emotional stressors, or help with transforming low energy to a higher vibration to help you move through life with more ease, you can read more about my Energy Alignment services here or contact me to book in for a live or online session.

About Nat

Nat is a Pain and movement rehab therapist, specialising in abdominal surgery rehab, pelvic floor and Women’s Health. She helps women through all stages of life to make their journey through the shifts and transitions of womanhood, with ease and grace.
Nat uses a multi-disciplinary approach to provide a ‘whole-istic’ approach to helping you understand and move more easily in your body, emotionally and physically. She uses a combination of manual bodywork, neuromuscular repatterning, movement, nervous system regulation and energy work to help you move beyond pain and emotional blocks and back to living life with joy and zest.

Nat helps with:

  • Postnatal recovery
  • Diastasis Recti recovery
  • C section recovery
  • Pelvic Floor Function
  • Perimenopause and Menopause Lifestyle Coaching
  • Nervous system regulation
  • Hysterectomy Recovery
  • Post-op rehab
  • Scar care
  • Functional Movement repatterning
  • Relieving pain
  • Reintroducing Stability to the system physically and emotionally
  • Energy Alignment

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