Shake, Rattle & Roll

I’ve previously discussed the brain’s Neuronal Network of PTSD in my June 2017 blog. The focus of this July blog is to discuss the broad effects of PTSD on the body and particularly on the involved musculature and ligaments.

Following threat to their survival, numerous species of mammals are inclined to physically and immediately clear the residual effects of the Fight-Flight-Freeze response. Dr. Peter Levine refers to this trauma release mechanism in his writings as exemplified in a polar bear video. Unfortunately, he perceives that humans: “. . . no longer know to ‘just shake it off’ like the polar bear and African deer do innately. We’ve lost it!” He further suggests that:

“Humans, in contrast to animals, frequently become stuck in a kind of limbo, not fully reengaging in life after experiencing threat as overwhelming terror or horror. In addition, they exhibit a propensity for freezing in situations where a non-traumatized individual might only sense danger or even feel some excitement. Rather than being a last-ditch reaction to inescapable threat, paralysis becomes a ‘default’ response to a wide variety of situations in which one’s feelings are highly aroused. For example, the arousal of sex may turn expectantly from excitement to frigidity, revulsion or avoidance.” (Levine, 2010)

Dr. Bessel A. Van der Kolk notes that: “Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition. It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place. That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures, regions that no cognitive therapy can access. It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.” (Kolk, 2015)

My colleague, Dr. Terry Zumwalt, is Board Certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology and a Navy Veteran of Operation Desert Storm. As part of her involvement in surgical outpatient units, she introduced the term- Vaginal Body Memory (VBM) noting that: “As an intern, you are doing a simple annual exam on a dairy farmer's wife who had 4 normal vaginal deliveries. The exam of her upper body is normal. As you lightly touch her perineum to start to obtain the pap smear, her legs snap closed and her hips instantaneously withdraw 2 feet up and away from you.

“. . . Neither she, nor your medical school training, nor your residency attending’s, nor the published literature could give you an answer. So, you call that 'move’, 'vaginal body memory' because the vagina clearly remembers something, but is not talking! All gynecologists, nurse practitioners, and general surgeons who routinely do pelvic exams on females know about that 'she just jumped' reaction. She moves her lower body away from the examining fingers. It is found in women who were sexually abused, raped or molested. Her muscles are just guarding her perineum from unwanted entry.”

The term muscle memory typically refers to a form of procedural memory that involves repetition of movement over time thereby allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. Learning how to ride a bicycle would be an example of this process. However, when trauma such as rape occurs, a ‘perimeter warning barrier’ is created in the musculature to maintain alertness to the possibility of future attacks. “That residual memory stays ‘frozen’ in cell membrane ‘muscle memory’ microtubules.” (“The Wisdom of Your Cells,” 2012)

Dr. David Berceli informs us that: “Because the reaction of the human body during trauma alters the tone of our skeletal muscles and their ability to function, if these changes in our muscles go unreleased, they will develop into patterns of chronic tension that will eventually create additional bodily dysfunction. Unless they are returned to a relaxed state after the stressful event is over, they are particularly vulnerable to continued stimulation, causing us to react to even minor stress with anxiety. It is vital to turn off this muscular response to stress.” (Berceli, 2005)

Dr. Theresa Zumwalt proposes that: “fear activates the trauma signal receiver microtubules into the erect position (brawny edema also referred to as “non-pitting edema” due to its rigidity when finger pressure is applied) which switch on the sympathetic . . . reaction in the muscles. The blood pressure and heart rate rise preparing for the fight/flight. The higher the fear driven heart rate, the more muscles react with their brawny edema; the artery muscle layer, the hands, the chest, the extremities, eyes, ears, larynx. Exercise driven tachycardia does not create the brawny edema reaction. It is seen only in the 'PTSD' response to fear.” (“Operationfirehaw(I)Combat Stress (PTSD) treatment training for Medics,”)

In order to display this phenomenon, I must take a leap into quantum physics, an area I am utterly uneducated in. Doctors Craddock, et. al., “demonstrate a feasible and robust mechanism for encoding synaptic information into structural and energetic changes of microtubule (MT) lattices . . . We suggest such encoded information engages in ongoing MT information processes supporting cognition and behavior, possibly by generating scale-free interference patterns via reaction-diffusion or other mechanisms. (Craddock, Tuszynski, & Hameroff, 2012)