Trauma & Body Armoring- Why We Are So Tense?

in #health4 years ago (edited)

Trauma & Body Armoring- Why We Are So Tense?

By Sheila L. Ferguson

     For years, and as far back as I can remember, I have felt physically and emotionally clenched up, shoulders tensed and raised, posture slouched, tail-bone tucked, and constantly aching. It was not until a few days ago that I stumbled upon an explanation that seems so obvious now. As with many other recent physical symptoms that have surfaced, the complaints to my doctors were minimized and dismissed. I felt I had to research my ailments in desperate efforts to explain why I feel the way I do because my doctors had no interest in digging deeper. The new chronic pains are noticeably different and in addition to the chronic lower back nerve pain. Searching for explanations has been an overwhelmingly maddening experience.

     I noticed my emotional state deteriorating in a totally new way after I escaped an abusive relationship after nearly 8 years. It would not be until I was seeking emergency help that I would begin to learn about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how people other than soldiers can also suffer from it. I would not learn until about two years later about my new diagnoses- Complex-PTSD or c-PTSD, Fibromyalgia, Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), to name a few.

     I have been in weekly intensive therapy for 4 years now, and it was just 2 days ago that I, learned about muscle armoring on the internet during my own research and not from my many medical teams. How could this be? My need to advocate for my own health (because doctors have failed to do so) has led me to so many important diagnoses discoveries. Despite years of treatments, I was severely suicidal on an almost daily basis. Because of the suicidal thoughts, I started my journey to find mental health medicine management about 6 months ago. I have had many, and I mean many, hurdles and dramatic bumps in the road, so much to the point that even calling my doctors triggers me into a fit of shaking so much I refer to it as vibrating.


     The last time I went to the previous nurse practitioner for a staff change (I will spare you the details of the long story, but I had to file a grievance because of it.), he asked me to name some of my symptoms and for some reason I was so stressed out my mind went blank and I was unable to properly articulate how I was suffering and examples. I did not want a repeat performance. The most recent visit was two days ago, which was pushed ahead one day, because of a cancellation. I worked through the social anxiety of even getting ready to go to the doctor. I could hear my heartbeat in my breath as I inhaled and exhaled while applying my mascara. I tried to deep breathe and self-soothe as I drove across town to the outpatient office. I faced the anxiety and marched into the office with a sense of inappropriate doom only someone who suffers from extreme anxiety disorders can describe. I checked in and started to look up a list of symptoms of c-PTSD, I wanted them fresh in my mind and ready to pull up if my mind goes blank again. That's when I found it-the term: muscle armoring.

     Many complex trauma survivors, who have experienced ongoing abuse, develop body hyper-vigilance. This is where the body is continually tensed, as though the body is braced for potential trauma. This leads to pain issues as the muscles are being overworked. Chronic pain and other issues related such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia can result. Massage, guided muscle relaxation and other ways to manage this can help. ( The Mighty )

     Why has this terminology not come up in my countless visits to numerous nurses, doctors and surgeons- medical care providers specializing in trauma, pain, psychology, etc.? Why is it that so many of my official diagnoses surfaced due to my researching my symptoms, desperately seeking answers? I felt I was alone in advocating for my health. For example, I would spend night after night crying in widespread pain and intense fatigue wondering how to explain it, reading and researching as thoroughly as I knew how. I needed to be able to explain what was happening to my body and mind and spirit. Invisible illness has been torturous for me, as it is difficult to prove that which is unable to be seen. Women in their 20's and 30's who have been diagnosed with cPTSD have very high chances to also be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Body armoring can be a cause or related symptom, as shown in the above quote. I did not have anyone talk with me about this terminology. Not primary care, not counseling, not any nurses or my chronic pain doctor or spinal surgeon or neurologist or rheumatologist, etc. even asked if I was getting an osteoarthritic hump on my neck from the constant pain. Are you starting to see the picture? I feel this is something a professional should have thought to connect with my other conditions and talk with me, especially after the many diagnoses had clear connections to my exposure to trauma.

     I was still in the waiting room, so I bookmarked the article in my phone and tried to focus on the tasks at hand: get refills and get the hell back home and calm down. I could not wait to get home and delve more into the topic. Let me share some of what I have easily found so far by just using Google Chrome.


Keeps potentially explosive emotions contained

Acts as a protective coping mechanism resulting from the fight or flight impulse being continually inhibited into a state of freeze often experienced in victims of abuse.

Wards off the emotions of others and provide a physical barrier to external stress or threat like a protective container.

Creates a sense of physical safety and containment as a coping mechanism to deal with chronic stressful life events.



I know my muscles are continually tense and this ongoing wear and tear, causes considerable pain, that worsens in cold weather. It is what I consider to be complex trauma induced fibromyalgia. I think many fibro sufferers who have had prolonged child abuse or prolonged domestic violence, will relate to this. This constant muscle tightness , is not something chosen by the sufferer, it is a subconscious need due to prolonged trauma abuse, for the body to be ready for abuse, regardless of any actual, or real threat of abuse being present.” (

The term body armor describes one way survivors cope with PTSD symptoms. It starts in the brain, which sends signals beyond our conscious awareness to the muscles, creating chronic holding patterns in the posture and tissues of the body. How does this happen? A traumatic event causes the body to contract its muscles and harden to shield the inner self. Just think back to the last time something frightened you or someone treated you harshly. Do you remember your shoulders and neck tightening in response? (

     The above information was provided via a simple google search, which reveals I have a lot of easily available reading to do on this new name I have for part of my condition. These are not in-depth medical studies only available to medical professionals. These are articles written by people like me who are suffering who are documenting and sharing their experiences and knowledge on the internet. Thanks to patients who share their experience, I have learned new terminology and new ways to think about my illnesses. I feel inspired to follow suit, to write about and to share my experience. I have learned I have to do my own research and bring it with me to my next doctor visit. I have learned a very specific lesson again, that I frequently relearn: if I do not advocate for my health, nobody will. If your suffering goes unexplained, I urge you to do your own research. Formulate questions for your doctor, create symptoms lists and print resources- bring them with you. I also keep a binder with a journal of my symptoms, medicines, therapies, etc. Staying organized can help when approaching your doctor, especially if research or findings are new.

Love my work?

Check out some of my previous posts!!

From Meditation to Penetration

PTSD: I Feel Like Two Different People

Big Pharma: Why I took myself off my Pain Medication


The way of life nowadays... is tense :) we spend most of our days being in positions that ain't even natural so, tensions all the wayyy

This piece is incredibly helpful. I remember when I was with a physical therapist who was working to determine why I had a blood flow blockage. It turned out I was "armoring" my tail end constantly. We worked to unlearn the bad behavior, but what sticks with me is how she looked at me when she asked, "What are you defending from?" At that time, I had no idea. It was a few years later that c-PTSD manifested in my life as a term I could related to and understand that I was defending against being hit. I still do it, but now I have done much to balance my musculature to prevent the armoring pulling my back out of alignment, pinching nerves and blocking blood flow.

I am only now able to begin to understand why m y jaw is constantly clenched and why my tail bone is tucked and my shoulders do not relax unless I meditate and focus specifically on relaxing and it still takes great effort to undo, and the questions is exactly what she asked you- I ask myself. What am I defending from? Which trauma is the cause of which armoring? Its like my whole body is braced for a giant horse kick...not a pleasant way to live. Going to be working on this for sure!

what have you done to work on it? That is going to be part of my next research. How to stop muscle armoring.

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Hyper-vigilance is a perfect way to describe this constant feeling of threat and tension. Thanks for the great information in your article and for sharing your experience.

thank you!
I hope sharing my experiences will help others

My word, this is so familiar. Both the trying to get help from doctors and therapists to no avail (or being 'fired' from care because my issues were too complex/they had no experience with them) and finding out one thing after another on my own.

I've not heard of body armouring before, either, but holy crap, that's me, too. I just...

I recently got a fasciablaster tool and have been using it and have commented numerous times to my husband how shocking it is that my muscles are ACTUALLY relaxed after I use it. My shoulders, calves and hamstrings have always been continually tensed. All the time. Massage therapists, chiropractors, my husband have all commented on how tight and tense my muscles always are, but I never related it to this before.

Thank you for sharing your journey. It is tremendously helpful to see things that I've experienced myself from a new perspective.

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