Sunday, August 3, 2008

Trauma and the Brain

True love is often carved into a tree because the scar created in the bark will last forever. A couple can return years later and still find their proclaimed love visible for all to see.

Many of us have scars in our skin from childhood cuts and scrapes, or more serious burns or trauma.

But severe trauma, both emotional and physical, can create deeper scars that change the brain and can create chronic physical and/or emotional problems.

For a long time, scientists considered the brain unchanging after a certain age. However, newer research shows that the brain can create new brain cells and change nerve cell connections up until death. The changes are slower with age, but with the right stimulation changes can take place. This is called neuroplasticity.

When we experience physical or emotional trauma, the neural connections in the brain can change so there is a "brain scar," meaning that trauma becomes imprinted in the brain connections and the emotions and/or body keeps reacting as if it is in that trauma.

Consider the millions of inputs into your high-tech computer called the brain. If any of the imputs are flawed through "scarring" of the nervous system, then some of the output may also be flawed. The output may feel very real, and may even cause physical changes, but it is simply a result of the flawed neural input and output.

With emotional trauma, such as abuse, an accident that causes an acute fear of dying, war experiences, sudden death of a loved one, etc., the brain can go into a pattern that keeps reliving that trauma. Sometimes the reliving can be subconscious, resulting in panic attacks. Other times the person is conscious of constantly experiencing the trauma through thoughts, dreams, or "abreactions," which is a flashback of the trauma that actually feels like the person is experiencing it again. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

With physical trauma, such as a painful accident, surgery, or even dental procedures, a very low level pathologic impulse can affect the nervous system, and may reflex out at the same or a different level through the brain and autonomic nervous system. This can result in chronic pain, organ dysfunction, or at times an extreme dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

"I sprained my ankle Dec. 14, 2007 and was diagnosed with RSD/CRPS. I am now 7 1/2 months post-injury and am dealing with the terrible pain of this condition. I would like to know what you know about this condition. "

RSD/CRPS is a chronic, painful and progressive neurological syndrome characterized by severe burning pain, pathologic changes in the skin, muscle and possibly bone, excessive sweating in the area of problem, tissue swelling and extreme sensitivity to touch. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg, or following surgery. However, many cases of RSD involve only a minor injury, such as a sprain. And in some cases, no precipitating event can be identified. The pain becomes disproportionate to the inciting event. There may or may not be evidence of actual nerve injury. Pain may begin in one area or limb and then spread to other limbs.

Millions of people in the United States may suffer from this chronic pain syndrome. RSD/CRPS affects both men and women, and also occurs in children. It can occur at any age, but usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 60 years. RSD/CRPS appears to involve the complex interaction of the sensory, motor, and autonomic nervous systems, and the immune system. It is thought that brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) control over these various processes is somehow changed as a result of an injury.

Traditional western medical treatment often combines physical therapy to maintain mobility, medications to control pain, nerve blocks to block faulty neurological input, and psychosocial support to learn how to live with chronic pain. There is no belief that RSD/CRPS can be cured, though at times there are spontaneous remissions.

There are many alternative treatments that have been shown to have affect on RSD/CRPS. The most common are oxygenation therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen treatment, hydrogen peroxide intravenously, and ultraviolet blood irradiation. These therapies seem to calm the nervous system and begin to heal the "scar."

Other treatments include specific frequency input, such as colored light, infrared therapy, low level laser therapy, magnetic therapy, and FMS (frequency specific microcurrent). There are studies that show that these therapies increase healing and often, over time, may even cure the problem.

We also use neurofeedback, which is a form of biofeedback that changes brain wave patterns. We perform a test called a Quantitative EEG (QEEG) which showes where brain wave patterns are abnormal, and use that information to create a neurofeedback protocol to change those patterns, which helps to "remove the scar." For more information go to

If you are interested in learning more about healing emotional scars, click on "comments" below and Ask Dr. Judi!

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi


anonymous said...

This sounds similar to what I've read about vulvodynia -- are the two conditions related? Are there alternative therapies that have shown promise for treating vulvodynia?

Dr. Judi said...

Of all the patients I've treated with vulvodynia, all but one had been sexually abused. The one had the problem from the time her husband had cheated on her.

I'm not saying that this is the only cause, but I believe that the emotional and physical trauma to that area of the body can cause physical problems and pain.

If this is the case, I often recommend emotional work such as rapid eye therapy or other work that deals with the root of the problem.

Whether the cause is from past trauma or not, the other therapies mentioned for RSD may also help. I would also consider a subclinical candida infection, which can cause burning and/or itching.

I hope that gives you a few things to work with.

teri said...

Question regarding thyroids. I was diagnosed at the age of 32 with hypothyroid. looking back, i can seem sypmtoms appearing as early as age 12, but no one thought to check. (even though my mother and her mother and my aunt all have thyroid issues you would think my diagnosis was a no brainer) anyway, two questions:
1) how can i help my daughters have healthy strong thyroids? i currently have my 10 year old take a couple drops of lugol's every few days.
2) can i recover any of my own disfunctional thyroid? i also use lugol's

Brenda said...

How would I find someone who provides the following therapies you suggested for CRPS/RSD? -- hydrogen peroxide intravenously, ultraviolet blood irradiation, specific frequency input, such as colored light, infrared therapy, low level laser therapy, magnetic therapy, and FMS (frequency specific microcurrent. My symptoms are getting worse and I would like to try some of these therapies.

Brian said...

So can biofeedback release trauma? What has to happen in the brain or body for trauma release to be complete - or stop releasing?

Deb said...

Hi Dr. Judi,
I have had a stressful few months and in that time I've had 3 anxiety attacks. I went to my PCP and he wants to put me on Paxil, but after reading all the negative information on the internet I don't want to do that. I have had only one prescription of xanax for the past 8 years and I've used it as needed. What should I do? Also, is anxiety associated with menopause? Thank you

Ellen said...

Is it possible for past emotional and physical trauma to all of sudden appear as fibromtalgia (sp) and other chronic pain symptoms after years have passed and you get the flu and all of a sudden can't move well and it never goes away even after mri's Ct scans and pain clinics? It has been 5 months and nothign touches the pain which is incapacitating on some days.

Stephen said...

I like your analogy :-) Seriously though if you want to read about some Brain trauma, you should check out a professional Los Angeles brain injury attorneys website, they tend to have hundreds of cases of actual trauma to the brain. It's generally an interesting thing to read about.

Anonymous said...

I have been doing oxygen therapy by following the hydrogen peroxide protocol found in the book the 'one minute cure to healing all diseases' for the last 7 days. I have found a calming down of my anxiety and heart beat, but still have 3 weeks to go to see the whole effect. I had been diagnosed with PTSD years ago, but wonder if really it is Lymes or Pyroluria, I have. But whatever physical symptoms are stuck on a person it seems it always starts with a childhood trauma of some sort. Pretty much includes all of us, I think to some degree..