When someone goes through a threatening or dangerous experience, it’s natural to feel afraid. Fear is part of the body’s “fight or flight” response to acute stress. Once the danger has passed, most people can recover and feel safe. But, sometimes the body’s responses get overwhelmed and trauma leaves a mark. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop in some individuals after experiencing intense or prolonged threat. Pioneering research into trauma shows that traumatic experiences are held deeply within the body and brain, often below the level of ordinary memory. Body-mind therapies, including acupuncture, show promise for releasing the body-held experience of trauma and assisting in the treatment of PTSD.
You don’t have to be a combat veteran to be susceptible to PTSD. Any person who has lived through or witnessed acts of violence, abuse, or catastrophic events may develop PTSD. It’s estimated that approximately 25 to 30 percent of people who experience a traumatic event may eventually develop PTSD. While the current research on the efficacy of acupuncture treatments on PTSD is limited, acupuncture can relieve many of the common symptoms associated with PTSD, such as sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and more.
Common Symptoms of PTSD
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a person may be diagnosed with PTSD if they have experienced at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least one avoidance symptom, at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, and at least two cognition and mood symptoms for at least one month. For instance, the victim of a harrowing car accident may experience flashbacks, avoid traveling by car, have difficulty concentrating or sleeping, or feel socially isolated or depressed for months after the accident. Most people experiencing PTSD are encouraged to participate in psychotherapy, which can help them identify potential triggers and manage symptoms when they arise. Sometimes, antidepressant medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to reduce the intensity of symptoms like anxiety and sadness. However, these medications often carry unwanted side effects, so some people seek out alternative therapies to manage PTSD symptoms.
Acupuncture for PTSD Symptoms
While more comprehensive studies are needed in order to study the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment sessions on PTSD, early research suggests that such sessions can relieve many symptoms associated with PTSD. In one randomized controlled trial, people experiencing PTSD were given a series of acupuncture sessions, ultimately leading to “significant reductions in PTSD symptoms from baseline to end-of-treatment.” Additionally, fMRI and PET studies on specific acupuncture points have demonstrated “significant fMRI neuronal signal reduction in the limbic system,” potentially explaining how acupuncture provides a sedative effect on people with anxiety disorders or PTSD who are prone to experiencing hyperarousal.
A 2013 systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture’s effectiveness on the treatment of PTSD found that “acupuncture had statistically significant effects compared to a waitlist control, although no statistical difference was found between acupuncture and CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy].” In other words, acupuncture may be equally effective as CBT. Perhaps acupuncture combined with cognitive therapy will prove to be even more effective than either approach alone, but more research is needed.
Developing a Personalized Acupuncture Treatment Plan for PTSD Symptoms
If you are experiencing sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, and other PTSD symptoms, consider including acupuncture in your treatment plan. Acupuncture can be used along with other mainstream therapies. At Inner Works Acupuncture, Elizabeth Zenger, Ph.D., L.Ac., will work with you to create a customized treatment plan that’s designed to help you bring your body and mind back into balance.
Call Inner Works Acupuncture today at (503) 227-2127 to make an appointment.