Treating PTSD with Acupuncture

by Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

At Beach Community Acupuncture, we treat the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on a regular basis. Acupuncture regulates the nervous system response and lowers stress. At BCA, our patients with PTSD report reduction in symptoms like: obsessive thinking, insomnia, panic attacks, and nightmares. To be most effective, we prescribe daily treatments for 10 days, then maintenance as needed.

About PTSD
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people may develop after living through or witnessing a dangerous event. When facing danger, it is natural to feel anxious and fearful-the nervous system “fight or flight” response is designed to help keep us safe. When these symptoms persist long after the danger has passed, PTSD is the likely diagnosis. In essence, the signals become damaged and the person experiences fear even when there is no danger.

We hear a lot about combat veterans with PTSD. Aside from the trauma experienced during war, people may develop PTSD after an accident, assault of any kind, natural disaster, or any terrifying event. The sudden death of a loved one or other strong emotional shock may also trigger PTSD.

The National Institute of Mental Health classifies the symptoms of PTSD in three categories: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyperarousal symptoms. Symptoms are outlined below.

Re-experiencing symptoms
* Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
* Bad dreams
* Frightening thoughts.
* Re-experiencing symptoms can be triggered from within-according to the person’s thoughts or feelings. External reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing (think of a car backfiring after a person has heard gun shots).

Avoidance symptoms
* Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience (for example, avoiding driving after a car accident)
* Feeling emotionally numb
* Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
* Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
* Having trouble remembering the dangerous event
* Hyperarousal symptoms
* Being easily startled
* Feeling tense or “on edge”
* Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

While the other PTSD symptoms are triggered by something reminiscent of the event, hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Diagnosis of PTSD requires the following are for a month or more:
* At least one re-experiencing symptom
* At least three avoidance symptoms
* At least two hyperarousal symptoms
* Symptoms that make it hard to go about daily life, go to school or work, be with friends, and take care of important tasks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Getting treatment as soon as possible after post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms develop may prevent long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Conventional treatment includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication (including antidepressants, antianxiety and antipsychotics). Therapy may include cognitive (talk) therapy and exposure therapy-i.e. having patients face their fears. A promising therapeutic technique is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).This type of therapy combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements that help you process traumatic memories.

In terms of alternative medicine, the main modality used to date is acupuncture.

Acupuncture has become quite well known for its help with PTSD, since the military has been using it more and more. In recent years, military doctors have turned to acupuncture in special pain clinics and for troops in battle zones. The Army surgeon general is making alternative treatments more widely available; in 2012, an article published on the US Army Web site says there are 14 centers around the country working on post traumatic stress, and offering alternative therapies from tai chi to acupuncture.

The results of a 2007 clinical trial published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease showed that acupuncture relieves symptoms of PTSD.

Mayo Clinic: Mental Health Information: PTSD
National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Acupuncture May Help Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
National Institutes of Health: Mental Health Information: What is PTSD?
National Public Radio (NPR): Military Pokes Holes In Acupuncture Skeptics’ Theory
Psychology Today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
United States Army, Holistic Treatments Help Soldiers Battle PTSD
Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial.

Treating PTSD with Acupuncture
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