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April, 2013

Early Life Traumas: Accurate Predictions of Adult Health?

By Craig Weiner, DC

After 22 years as a chiropractor, I have no doubt that most of my patients' symptoms have their origins in more than just the obvious physical causes. There is nearly always more involved than a patient having "slept wrong" or "moved the wrong way."

Every day I take patient histories, I'm told what they think caused their headache or sciatic pain. When I inquire deeper, I will often uncover a significantly stressful event that occurred prior to the onset of their pain.

Stressful or negative emotions resulting from challenging circumstances have direct bearing on the manifestation of physical pain. Hearing that a patient had an intense argument with their spouse the day before their neck pain began, or that another patient's back pain sent them to the ground two weeks after their spouse asked them for a divorce, are not unusual scenarios. The initiating cause of a patient's "pain in the neck" may often be a "who" and not a "what." I propose that to understand patient's symptoms, one must look deeper than the presenting physical complaints alone.

Yet, when patients present to us with a fully shaded in pain diagram, and their medical history form has notes of heart or liver disease, they smoke and drink too much, we must have a broader understanding that their current health status and lifestyle choices are likely to have their roots in early childhood trauma. It behooves us to take this into greater consideration when we both perform an intake on our patients, and when we advise them on lifestyle behavior modifications; i.e. losing weight or smoking cessation.

As The Twig Grows

The notion that physical conditions have roots in "emotional and psychological subluxations" is not a new one. As an example, Dr. John Sarno's groundbreaking and controversial books have been read by millions. In Healing Back Pain, he writes how, as the head physician of a large rehabilitation facility, he was able to help most of his serious chronic pain patients without physical intervention. His methods did not include prescribing medications or injections, and eventually he even stopped recommending physical therapy (at no point did he recommend chiropractic). Instead, he offered them lessons in re-wiring their thinking regarding the mind-body connection with regards to the relationship of unexpressed emotions and physical pain. He hypothesized that most back pain, and in fact most joint pain, had at its origins in unexpressed negative emotions, most often anger. He referred to this condition of emotions manifested as physical pain as TMS, or Tension Myositis Syndrome.

It is much easier for people to believe that physical symptoms or diseases are a direct result of purely physical causes, it makes sense to them and is often quite linear. The idea that how we think, how we feel and how we express ourselves has a direct bearing on our health, is an idea that many are beginning to come to accept more fully.

Nature vs. Nurture

For several decades research had focused largely on mapping the genome in order to best understand the likelihood of the pathology resulting from our DNA maps. Yet, more studies seem to view our chromosomal inheritance as a tendency rather than a reliable predictor of disease. Studies have shown that when twin's genetic makeups are examined with respect to genetic markers for disease, they were as likely as not to manifest the predicted conditions that they were pre-determined to be susceptible to. The work of Stanford biologist Bruce Lipton and his groundbreaking book, The Biology of Belief, addresses the idea that what determines the health of a cell and the body is its relationship with its environment, internally and externally. That epigenetic, non-chromosomal factors, are the keys to the switches that determine whether the blueprints turn into reality. That means that what we have been exposed to, especially during our early developmental years, has significant implications for our health and well-being later in our lives. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel said, "The gene was the central issue in biology in the 20th century; the mind is the essential issue for biology in the 21st century."

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