Trauma | Physical and Psychological Injuries

Published: Mar 7, 2024
Edited by: Team TB

Man with trauma

The word trauma is used in two ways: either in the sense of physical trauma, or in the sense of psychological trauma.

Physical trauma can co-occur with psychological trauma, or cause psychological trauma (such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]), and psychological trauma can lead to physical pains, discomforts, and dysfunctions. As a rule, trauma usually has both physical and psychological (emotional) aspects.

Physical Trauma

In medicine, physical trauma is seen as a major physiological injury of a person’s body (i.e. body parts) that can cause prolonged disability, illness, or even death. Causes may be falls, heat, pressure, machines, motor vehicle collisions, chemicals, stab wounds, ruptures, fractures, and gunshot wounds, among other causes, usually occurring due to blunt or penetrating force.

The symptoms of injury may manifest in various ways, such as changed mental status, pain, bleeding, inflammations, fever, edema, organ dysfunctions, increased heart rate and metabolism, and in the long-term possible enduring psychological trauma (the latter even occurring after physical injuries have healed or are managed).

Depending on the type of physical trauma, management and treatment of injuries typically includes physical examination by a healthcare professional, imaging (MRI, CT Scan, X-Ray, etc.), hospitalization, orthopedics, surgery, nursing, medication, rest, massage therapy, and/or physiotherapy, among other treatments.

Psychological Trauma

Psychological trauma — also known as mental trauma, psychiatric trauma, or psychotrauma — is defined as an intense and overwhelming emotional response caused by severe distressing events (either self-experienced or witnessed), such as sexual violence, death, sudden illness, a major injury, natural disasters, war, a plane crash, car accident, etc. Mind that psychological trauma can also be caused by a series of similar events during a longer period (for instance, childhood neglect, bullying, or domestic violence), not only by one sudden distressing experience.

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Short-term reactions are usually psychological shock and denial. The long-term effects (of untreated or undigested trauma) may include a range of disorders and dysfunctions, such as bipolar and other mental disorders, emotional dysregulation, persistent feelings of guilt and shame, intrusive memories and flashbacks, obsessive behavior, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, dissociation, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, nightmares, difficulties with interpersonal relationships, and PTSD, among other life-disrupting phenomena.

The physical symptoms that accompany psychological trauma may include organ and muscle tensions, bodily pains, migraines, hyperventilation, tinnitus, numbness, disconnectedness, hyperhidrosis, dizziness, excessive sweating, nervous tension, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, fatigue, low energy levels, nausea, and concentration problems.

After a traumatic experience, people may re-experience (or “revisit”) the disturbing event mentally and physically. Certain external stimuli may cause intrusive thoughts or a sense of re-experiencing a traumatic experience. These stimuli become a so-called trauma reminder (trauma trigger), which can produce distressing feelings that damage people’s sense of safety, self-determination, and self-efficacy, as well as their ability to manage emotions and engage in relationships. In fact, re-experiencing trauma is a sign that body and mind are (still) struggling to cope and digest the traumatic experience.

Treatments of psychological trauma include a number (and often combination) of psychotherapy approaches and/or somatic therapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing, Biofeedback, Body Psychotherapy, physical exercise, Talk Therapy, Yoga, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), and/or Body De-Armoring. In addition, pharmaceutical medication may also be involved, solely or simultaneously with the treatments just mentioned.

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