PTSD are the initials that stand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a severe type of anxiety disorder. PTSD results from a person witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror, such as, a natural disaster (think hurricane Katrina), rape, childhood abuse, a tragic accident, or war.
Diagnostic manuals say that signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder typically begin within three months of a traumatic event but can, in some instances, occur years after the event.
The symptoms of PTSD are commonly grouped into categories:
1. Intrusive memories – flashbacks and nightmares of events
2. Avoidance and numbing – feeling emotionally numb, hopelessness about the future, avoiding anything that is a reminder of the precipitating event
3. Hyperarousal – increased anxiety, irritability or anger, self-destructive behavior (i.e. excessive drinking), and an exaggerated startle response (jumping at sounds).
In the last couple of years acupuncture, has been getting more attention as a treatment for PTSD, particularly from the military and veterans because soldiers are at a high risk for suffering from PTSD after serving in combat.
(AWB) Acupuncturists Without Borders, a group that previously provided relief to the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti and hurricane in New Orleans, launched The Military Stress Recovery Project. This organization provides free acupuncture treatments for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their families. “Treated military personnel are reporting improved mental clarity, less anxiety and a reduction in stress.”
There are good precedents for AWB’s use of acupuncture to treat PTSD. Walter Reed Medical Center, a military hospital, has begun to investigate acupuncture as a viable treatment for returning veterans. Also, at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Michael Hollifield, M.D., and colleagues conducted a clinical trial examining the effects of acupuncture on the symptoms of PTSD. These researchers analyzed depression, anxiety, and impairment in 73 people who had been diagnosed with PTSD. The participants were assigned to receive either acupuncture, group cognitive-behavioral therapy (a popular psychological treatment for PTSD) for 12 weeks, or were assigned to a wait-list (the control group). The people in the control group were offered treatment or referral for treatment at the end of their participation. The researchers found that acupuncture provided treatment effects similar to group cognitive-behavioral therapy. Both acupuncture and CBT were superior to the control group. Additionally, treatment effects of acupuncture and group therapy were maintained for 3 months after the end of treatment. The limitations are the size of the study, lack of diversity, and inability to account for outside factors.
More recently, Reuters published an article that quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying, “We have an experimental unit … treating soldiers with PTSD (post-traumatic stress) and using a number of unorthodox approaches, including aroma therapy, acupuncture, things like that, that really are getting some serious results.”
Suicide rates and homelessness among U.S. soldiers and returning veterans are climbing. These tragic statistics can be partly attributed to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The results from acupuncture are hopeful. Time and again, it has proven to be an effective modality for treating the symptoms of PTSD.
Why does acupuncture help the symptoms of PTSD? Acupuncture is well known for it’s ability to relieve stress. Correctly placed needles help the body re-regulate itself from the effects of stress, PTSD, depression and anxiety. In turn, this allows the individual to focus on their activities and enable them to deal with daily events.
Hollifield, M., Sinclair-Lian, N., Warner, T., and Hammerschlag, R. “Acupuncture for Post traumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, June, 2007 V195(6):504-13.
2 Pentagon tries aroma therapy to ease combat stress. Fort Riley, Kansas, Sat May 8, 2010.