IBS: How stress can create physical pain

   01/06/2021

IBS stress and pain

All IBS sufferers know pain. Stomach pain, back pain, abdominal pain, pain under the ribcage to name a few popular spots. This can go from light indigestion for the lucky ones, to a  regular diffuse dull pain that knocks your enthusiasm –  to intense stabbing pains that knock you for six.

I had a stressful experience on top of my IBS that really made me research the origin of pain – and ultimately understand the origins of my main IBS symptoms. I am sharing this with you to see if this can shed light on any of yours.

[If you are pregnant, please note that I had this experience due to an accident I had as a child. It is not linked to having IBS, and was specific to me.]

Nothing was physically wrong

I woke up in maternity, feeling like a lorry had run over me.

I felt as if someone had tightened up all the bolts on all the joints in my back and neck. My arms felt like lead. My legs couldn’t bear me.  I could hardly move. Any attempt to change position and pains would stab into me.

Yet I was the proud mother of a lovely baby girl!

While the other Mums swopped their stories and had the awesome task of giving their littl’uns their first baths, I was stuck in bed. I had IBS and my back pain was so intense I couldn’t even get up to go to the toilet! Let alone bathe a baby.

It was a real shock. And certainly not what I had imagined.

When the doctor came round to see how I was he was perplex. He told me that nothing was physically wrong with me. He gave me an allowance of paracetamol. But that did not knock the pain -and I was told I couldn’t have any more.

Not understanding the pain reaction

I had NO CLUE why I was in so much pain, nor what to do about it.

Over the next few days my state slightly improved. I could just about get out of bed and start taking a few steps. But my back was still killing me. I asked to see a chiropractor. That gave me a little welcome relief, but did not get rid of the pain.

When I finally got home with my baby I was feeling really vulnerable. The pain in my back and wrists was so strong – and I had a baby to look after. My husband was a real rock. But he had to go back to work.

So I was left 12 hours a day to get on with it.

Changing nappies when you can hardly stand up and your wrists are killing is purgatory. My doctor said to put a plastic moulded strain shield on it, but that just made it throb even worse.

I had to go and get my daughter checked up regularly, and get in our 3-door car, lean into the back with the weight of my daughter and strap her in. To this day I don’t know how I did it. It was misery.

It took a good month for me to be able to stand up straight. And several more months for the pain to very gradually release.

What is the link with IBS and pain?

Years later I understand what actually happened.

This very real pain was the result of my body’s reaction to intense stress (related to a former trauma).

I realized that I was so stressed I instinctively clenched up all my body muscles hard and grit my teeth to face the situation.

IBS stress and pain

My adrenals stayed stuck in the “on” position – and the muscles stayed contracted and cramped, until the stress very gradually died down and released them.

I realised that this was potentially what was going on with my IBS, but set off by other stress and food triggers. It was a subconscious neuro-muscular stress response. My muscles had been tightening up all down my digestive tract, interfering with normal digestion.

This hypothesis has been confirmed – unfortunately not by a doctor, but by understanding it and undoing it.

Everyone is different, but this stress reaction is worth considering. If you are left thinking “But I can’t do anything about stress…” you would be amazed to find what is possible, once you know WHAT you are reacting to and WHY. 

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