PTSD and Core Muscle Function

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I have been in physical therapy for the last few months to repair damage done years ago from pregnancy and then a bad skiing accident. This past week I had a setback. I literally was back to a state where I could not feel my core muscles or many muscles in my back and trunk. My wonderful therapist, Amy, had me lie down on my back and gave me an exercise to turn them back on. It worked.

The next day it happened again. I remembered the exercise and did it again. Then I had an “aha” moment. 9/11 is a big trigger for me (and thousands of others). I had been re-experiencing some PTSD symptoms all week but had not until now connected them with the lack of core muscle function. Fascinating!

I remembered the numerous times in years past I had hurt myself and was more ‘accident prone’ during PTSD recovery. Now I realized why. It was not, as some therapists might think, a lack of self care or even groundedness – although grounding has been a big one for me to focus on. No, it was this core disconnect. At times it has felt like my muscles were not responding, and now I’m finding out that that is literally true (and probably responsible for my skiing accident).

I thought of Peter Levine’s work and his elucidation of the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ response. He points out that when an antelope gets grabbed by, let’s say, a lion, then the antelope’s body goes limp even before it is killed. I am wondering if this freeze response was more than an emotional response in humans but also a very physical, muscular response. 

In writing The Trauma Toolkit I have not run across any research linking muscular function, physical therapy and PTSD, probably because it has not been looked at yet. Check it out for yourself. Lie down on your back with your feet on the floor and your arms resting beside you. Do a big Kegel core muscle contraction and press your upper arms down into the ground. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Notice any difference? Let me know! All comments will get a personal response.

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