Researchers are adding weight to the increasingly recognized theory that trauma is a factor in the development of chronic pain.

A 2011 study published online in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, found a link between childhood physical abuse and functional somatic syndromes like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivities.

“The majority of people abused won’t develop these syndromes and the major of people with these syndromes won’t have been abused. There’s just a greater likelihood that those abused may have a link to these conditions,” explains lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, Professor & Sandra Rotman Chair in the Faculties of Social Work, Medicine & Nursing at the University of Toronto.

Researchers asked more than 7,000 women from two Canadian provinces if they had experienced physical abuse by someone close to them during their childhood while they were still living at home. Participants were also asked if they’d ever been diagnosed by a health professional with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or other related conditions.

“People who reported they were physically abused also were more likely to report they had these health conditions,” Fuller-Thomson says. Results show that women who reported childhood physical abuse were more than twice as likely to have chronic fatigue syndrome, and 65 percent more likely to have fibromyalgia than women who didn’t report a history of childhood physical abuse.

Researchers aren’t citing a direct cause and they don’t know how to fully explain the association, but they wonder if chronic stress plays a role. “These are things that need to be looked at. Since we don’t know in general what causes these conditions it's hard to say. It’s possible that chronic stress makes you more sensitive to pain,” Fuller-Thomson explains. She says while scientists search for answers, she’d like to see proactive work done with abused children to help them with coping strategies and mental health interventions to try and offset problems as they get older.

Another 2011 study in Arthritis Care & Research found that being in a traffic accident was associated with developing chronic widespread pain.