PIRL MSc student Sadia Siraj, who just successfully defended her thesis on August 17th, has opened new ways of exploring the link between musculoskeletal trauma and distress. Sadia used data from the SYMBIOME longitudinal databanking project to find associations between pain, psychological distress, and key biomarkers when all were captured within hours to days of a traumatic injury. Using a sample of 80 participants drawn from the local urgent care centre, Sadia focused on 3 key biomarkers of distress: cortisol, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-B1). These were chosen as they've previously shown differences in people with and without chronic pain and Sadia wanted to know if similar associations could be found between those experiencing heightened psychological distress and those with little distress following a mixed group of injuries affecting any body part from the neck to the ankle. Of the 3 biomarkers, cortisol was most frequently associated with the amount of pain and distress patients said they were experiencing, thought BDNF also showed potentially important effects. Then Sadia chose to look deeper and explored the possibility that those who have experienced significant traumas as a child would react differently, both physiologically and psychologically, to trauma in adulthood. Using responses to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire, she found a number of potentially important interaction effects, suggesting that indeed the response to trauma such as a car crash, sports or work injury may be different for those who have experienced childhood traumas (e.g. abuse, neglect, dysfunctional homes) and those who have not experienced such traumas. As with much research, these findings lead to more questions than answers and of course require replication before any of the the results can be endorsed with confidence, but it certainly fits with the ongoing views that trauma does not occur in a vacuum but rather is affected by prior life experiences.
The publication is currently under preparation.