IBS: How stress can create physical pain

   February 23, 2018

IBS stress and painAll IBS sufferers know pain. This can go from light indigestion for the lucky ones, to regular diffuse dull pain that knocks your enthusiasm, to intense stabbing pains that knock you for six.

I had an experience outside 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.

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. 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.

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 couldn’t even go to the toilet. 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. 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 slowly 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 kine. 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 month for me to be able to stand up straight. And several more months for the pain to very gradually leave me.

What is the link with IBS?

Years later I understand what actually happened. This very real pain was the result of my body’s reaction to intense stress. I was very stressed about the birth. It was my first.  My daughter had a chromosome abnormality and we didn’t know how that would turn out. Plus she was right up at my ribcage and did not want to come out. So the birth itself was long and complicated. I realized that I was so stressed I instinctively clenched up all my body muscles hard and grit my teeth to face the situation. My adrenals stayed stuck in the “on” position – and the muscles stayed contracted and cramped, until the stress gradually died down and released them.

I realized 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 that you can, once you know WHAT you are reacting to and WHY. 

More on that in future posts.