Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

A journey to healing from complex trauma.

Constant muscle tightness in complex trauma survivors ‘armoring’ ~ Lilly Hope Lucario


I am currently reading Pete Walkers book on complex trauma and he describes constant muscle tightness, which I have suffered all my life, as ‘armoring’. I have not heard it described this way by anyone else and it makes perfect sense.

My massage therapist once described my body as being continually ‘braced for something’, which she was correct in describing, and is a symptom of my hypervigilant state, that always assumes subconsciously, that I need to be prepared for trauma. In the case of my body, I always have my ‘armor on’.

It is no doubt why I have always required alcohol to actually relax.

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.

I have to make myself relax, and at any given time that I stop and think about it, I will feel all the muscles in my neck and shoulders tensed and have to tell myself to relax. And this is constant and I suffer pain continually.

Regular guided muscle relaxation exercises help, but nothing provides continual relief.

My body protects itself in this way, the same subconscious way, we all breathe.

See my Website, for more info on complex trauma and how to manage symptoms

@ https://www.healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.com/

~ Lilly Hope Lucario

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Author: Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

I am a survivor of complex and multiple trauma and abuse, who at the age of 40, began my healing journey. I am using my journey to recovery and healing, to help others, to help survivors feel less alone, validated, encouraged and to enable others to understand themselves more. Complex trauma, particularly from severe, prolonged childhood abuse, is profoundly life changing. Complex trauma produces complex adults. The journey to recovery is a painful, often lonely, emotional daily challenge and it is my aim to encourage others in their daily battle. ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

34 thoughts on “Constant muscle tightness in complex trauma survivors ‘armoring’ ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

  1. Must be tough for you.

    • It is painful, and more so sinced I stopped drinking alcohol regularly, due to medication.
      But, I am used to it and have a high pain threshold, due to all too.

      • I really appreciate the article first of all. Secondly I am in a similar situation. My pain had also increased substantially since I stopped drinking. Over time the muscles in my neck and back stayed tense so long it changed the curvature of my spine. The doctors had no idea what was causing it for a long time. I went through three 6 week sessions of PT with no result. The only release I’ve found is a hot soak and it usually only relieves the pain a little and long enough to let me go to sleep more easily. Again, great article!

  2. I had never thought of this tension as amour either…until my last therapy session when my body went into fight/flight mode. It was good and bad but luckily this psychiatrist knew exactly what was happening, I have never had someone be present with me in these moments pointing out that my body felt threatened. Hope you are doing well and find beauty in today.

  3. My mother and her brother first lost their father in childhood and then their mother during their teens. The brother regressed, continually in and out of health institutions, while being abused in many ways by undesirable, imbalanced adults who frequented the streets. As a child I witnessed the resulting consequences and sometimes came across these deviants face to face. In my late teens at 17 years, I was the last person to see him, dropped him off in the car, he was extraordinarily happy. The next day, I went down with my father to find out why he had not turned up at our house. Our suspicions were finally concluded, we found he had eventually succumbed to his frequent attempts to various forms of suicide, this time by the use of the rope/wire. My mother, many years later, while having a form of holistic massage therapy, had an overwhelming sense of emotional/psychological/physical release. For she too had suppressed her traumatic events by the use of ‘armouring’, my ex girlfriend/friend who has a long history of abuse, she has the same constant muscle tensioning and I have been aware of myself using this natural inbuilt method of the body responding to the inner strains of containment, from early childhood, a type of strategic coping mechanism.

    On a breakfast TV programme recently, they had Tanya Byron [25 year Mental Health Psychologist] explaining about her book ‘The Skeleton Cupboard’. It covers why she pursued this career avenue and her first years of her training. She began with having witnessed the death, at age 15 years, of her grandmother by a women who was a drug addict, only got 3 years for manslaughter, served only about 18 months or less. Her first experience in training, was where one time she unwittingly progressed too far into the patients first therapy session and it got to a situation where the patient held a knife to her eyes, with verbal expressive intent to cut them out.

    Tanya Byron presented herself quite constructively, I shall be seeking to acquiring her book, just thought this might be of an interest to others.

  4. Thank you so much for finally giving a name to my muscle tension!!! I too go for massages (try to every month) and the therapists always say that even if they get the muscles to finally relax in my left shoulder, they’re back to the way they were after getting my right shoulder to relax….I’ve only had one therapist that was able to get me to the point after a massage where I actually was relaxed enough to fall into a deep sleep afterwards!! I’d love to know the name of the book you were reading…sounds like one I’d like to read too!!

  5. In the 1930s, Wilhelm Reich, the father of body-centered therapy (Reichian or bioenergetics) started using his hands during therapy to touch patients’ bodies in specific areas ( jaws, necks, chests, backs, or thighs) who he described as having “body armor” to release the tension that was the result of “repressed memory of the childhood situation that had caused the repression”.

  6. I ended up with a stage three uterine prolapse due to muscle fatigue from constant guarding. Had a hysterectomy to repair the situation. My other muscles are always tight and on guard. My shrink also described it thus–guarding against future attacks. I have complex PTSD, I joke about being an ogre with layers. You can’t treat one problem without reveling three more raw issues. Sometimes I wonder why bother any more. And, unlike you, I’m an atheist, so I view suicide as a permanent relief. I’m just trying not to do that to the few people I care about anymore.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have an abusive past and present. I have had severe pain in my muscles from cramping and ALWAYS being tight all my life. Too bad there isn’t a “official diagnosis” of this for disability as I am unable to work. I will be checking into the book you mentioned also.

  8. very helpful explanation. like living my life on the starting blocks of the 100 metres sprint, waiting for the gun!

  9. I have similar issues. Cant get comfortable in bed at night because my legs are so tight like a pulled thin rubberband. Just realized that this has been going on since childhood. Been grinding my teeth for many years, sometimes aware of this and try to stop it. Last 2 years chronic headaches. doc calls them stress headaches. Yep, par for the course,

  10. I didn’t realise there were so many responses to this post!

    I feel for all of you dealing with this.

    Physical pain, on top of psychological, emotional pain….not fun.

    Please know I understand how hard this all is.

  11. I am walking around like a cramped up fist all the time. Can’t sleep due to hypervigilance, am surviving with many natural supplements and never took medication. Surviving though gets to be really tiring. Have given up the hope that prenatal and subsequent cptsd can be healed. Yet i found i still want to continue, stay in my daughters life a while longer, when last week i had so much pain in my liver, i thought i was dying. Most likely digestion coming to a total stop, after having been unable to digest gluten, lectins for decades. Am now trying fat, coconutoil as major food/energy source, which seems to improve my energylevel somewhat.

  12. I have found doing self trigger point therapy has helped me immensely. I was not able to have sex for years because of it. I now am. Trigger point therapy, pushing deeply where the pain is, and holding it there until the pain dissipates has helped relieve alot of the pain and trauma I have held in my body. Lately I have also been working on my jaw, doing a combination of self myofacial release and trigger point therapy, it’s amazing how much pain and tension is held there. And how much emotion comes up for days afterwards.

  13. “It’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you.” We need to also find some release when we refuse to hold onto the false blame and shame that are not ours. It was not our fault. You are a beautiful Butterfly.. Free to Be.. Free to Fly.. Free to Soar! 2freebutterflies FB

  14. this explains why my muscles are so tight. When i drive i notice my legs are really tensed. Last major trauma 2 yrs ago immediately caused severe migranes.

  15. Yes! This happens to me.

  16. I am currently reading Pete Walker’s book, ‘ Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving’. I also listened to the audio version of Bessel Van der Kolk, MD, ‘the Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma’. Both are excellent.

  17. I feel you Lilly. I feel most of what you write actually. The only treatment I found helpful was Cranial Sacral Therapy. Unfortunately I was unable (financially) to continue but I know I felt a bit of a shift with the treatments that I did receive.

  18. Pingback: Tensed muscles | PTSD - Accepting, Coping, Thriving

  19. I suffer with this as well. I do yoga and find it so difficult to relax and move slow….When I wake up in the night my hands or arms are tense and stiff…tried calcium and magnesium doesnt seem to help.

  20. Armour. I like that explanation. I have practiced meditation and relaxation techniques for years. But if I am in a room with other people – especially if I have anyone behind me – I go completely taut.
    One of the reasons I can’t work in an open office environment. Even though I know the guy sitting behind me or the people moving around me. It just happens. I always overreact when someone walks up and touches me on the shoulder – you know – to get my attention. I jump violently. Cannot NOT do it. Just can’t. I have given up explaining why I’m like this – too often people have said things like “Oh – common, that was years ago! Get over it already!” Or they simply think it’s fun and do it more.
    No. I just “hide” in empty meeting rooms and dark corners – saying I need peace and quiet to do some task or other. Which is also true. I can’t concentrate very well, while I’m hyper vigilant.
    Okay – that just came out. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. I am so glad I found you and your articles.

  21. The last 8 months I of my 3 year “relationship” with a soul-sucking vampire i developed back and hip pain that was so bad I could barely walk at times. It got worse and worse…then I ended it and went No Contact with him. Within days the pain was gone. Also the headaches, rashes, IBS, weight gain, it all vanished, the weight melted off me.
    I’m doing a lot of deep healing work now and as I dig into the family of origin trauma, the pain will start to come back. But now that I know it’s trauma armoring, I can ease it with stretching, meditation and occasional acupuncture if it gets bad. But it’s never gotten any where near as bad as it was when I was with Dracula.

  22. Dear Lilly …I too suffer with this muscle issue ..I have suffered many years with Fibromyalgia and ptsd ..and all the stuff in between .. Every night for me is actually a struggle between my brain and my muscles …usually when I am winding down I realize all my muscles are stuck in a tight state..Do u have any techniques that may help …I usually think about each muscle individually in order to relax them ?

  23. Thank you so much for this article. It’s truly a difficult life having to deal with the judgment on top of everything else. Blessings to you.

  24. Yes. I have the same experience. Long term trauma led to chronic muscle tightness, hypervigilance, and fibromyalgia. Thank you for sharing. Aloha!

  25. My muscle get so tight in my shoulders you can feel and see them pulling. I also get knots in my back and muscles at my shoulder blades just matt up. I’ve been like this since I was 35

  26. Last fall I finally went to see a counselor who informed me I had cptsd, I was relieved but that quickly put me into a sort of shock. I asked for a book to read on my next visit, he is a U professor, and it was Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. It gave be a background of trauma and why childhood abuse is also categorized that way. A hard book to read but it gave me context and hope.

    Then two months later I was at my naturopath and had mentioned I’d been diagnosed with cptsd and she said she would give me something to block extra cortisol. She said that when one is on hypervigilance our bodies produce cortisol to flee or fight the pending situation but when there is no energy spent on the situation and the cortesol continues to be produced by the body it wreaks havoc, like what you have described. Do a google search on “effects of chronic elevated cortisol” and anyone of you will see your symptoms in print. It helped me sleep at night and over time the chronic muscle tightness released and one day I realized I had no pain in my body. My body changed. My counselor offered breathing techniques but for the most part I didn’t need them my body was relaxed and even as I have read many blogs and comments about the great benefit of breathing, yoga etc the coetisol blocker has done the heay work for me.

    You can google natural cortisol blockers. The one she recommended to me was phosphadal serene and I got the NOW brand. I took it for 3 months then found I didn’t need it, then took it again a few nights about 6 months later. I have it always but rarely need it now. No panic attacks, shortness of breath, pain all over my body, my mind is clearer (doesn’t take away the past memories but it put me in the drivers seat to my adrenals rather than the other way around).

    I feel it was God leading her and I’ve learned so much about how the body works. For example the part of the body that takes in information does so through our 5 senses and our emotions, it’s that part of us that is triggered. BUT, the part of the body that is logical and factual is NOT connected to this vital part. So, we need to have calm adrenals to be able to think rationally, the breathing does this but I will argue not having high cortisol levels means you can quickly within seconds recover and turn your logical mind on to reason out the trigger.

    Hope this journey of mine is helpful to others.